Update in the Middle of It All

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Images of the Twin Cities burning made headlines around the world.

May 29, 2020—11 a.m.

I monitored news channels and Twitter until something past 2 a.m. this morning. My cities, my streets were burning. This morning I woke to news of the arrest of a Black CNN reporter, and then of his camera team, as they broadcast from Lake Street, as they asked police where they should go, and offered full cooperation.

All of this comes in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd on Monday, which lit fires of rage against the Minneapolis Police Department, with its long history of brutal racism.

The violence and destruction was not/is not all about protest or grief or anger. Some of it is about deliberate looting and destruction by people coming into our communities for that purpose.

Lake Street in Minneapolis and University Avenue in St. Paul are filled with small businesses: minority-owned, immigrant-owned family businesses. So much remains to be known, remains to be said, remains to be understood and acted on. So this is a report from the middle, compiled as I listen to Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington speak in a press conference and promise that the state response will not be just law enforcement but also a long-term commitment to changing the racist structures that have made Minnesota good for white people and simultaneously awful for Black people, for Native people, for people of color.  So here are some of the insights and stories I have gathered this morning from Facebook posts:

First, a quick summary of the week from Ricardo Lopez at my new favorite Minnesota news source, the Minnesota Reformer.

Second, Nora McInerney pulls together the long story of racism in Minneapolis and Minnesota.

Third, Nevada Littlewolf describes the police riot/police rebellion against law and authority that she observed/experienced during the past three days.

Fourth, a short message from Gandhi Mahal offers residence, commitment, and hope.

Fifth, a plea from Hlee Lee Kron to stop burning POCI neighborhoods.

Sixth, turning to St. Paul, we see the clearest demonstration that much of the destruction came from outsiders bent on destruction and looting, and NOT from protests or protesters. Posts from Jeremy Levinger and Christopher Mitchell describe the white and non-local looters and arsonists. The Star Tribune and others called this “flash looting.” There’s an older term: provocateurs, like “the white dude in the gas mask” who began the destruction on Lake Street by smashing windows with his hammer.

From the Minnesota Reformer

“A police precinct was abandoned and razed by a jeering crowd. The fire chief went on CNN, where he had to be informed by a flummoxed host that a police building in his city was ablaze.

“The state’s chief law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities — local, state and federal — all appeared. And good God was that unhelpful.

“No news to report, they said. But then Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman threw everyone into a panic when he said “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge” against the officer who ground his knee into George Floyd’s neck while he begged for his life, all on video.

“As the fires and looting spread to St. Paul in broad daylight, police in the smaller twin city decided they could save the Target (of course!) but not the other businesses in the Midway, and something like 170 of them were burned or damaged as the fury swept east.

“Around this time, I could smell the smoke from my neighborhood near St. Paul Cathedral. This would have been right around when Minneapolis Police were busy formulating their non-plan to just let it burn.

“Speeding out of a mostly peaceful downtown march, a Minneapolis officer thought it might be fun to spray some mace out his driver’s side window at a crowd that included a filming journalist. Oh well, he knows there’s no consequences. “

From Nora McInerny

“Hello my fellow white people, would you like to have a little history lesson together?

“It’s 1931 in Minneapolis, MN when this photo is taken. Look at all these people! What could they be doing posing and smiling on this lawn at 46th and Columbus?⁠

“If you guessed that they were a racist mob harassing Edith and Arthur Lee, who purchased a home just a few blocks south of the neighborhood where black people were *supposed* to live, you are correct! The mob grew to over 4,000 violent people, who threw rocks and paint and yes, posed for this photo. ⁠

“These riots lasted MONTHS — MONTHS! — and they worked. The Lees moved out in 1933.⁠

“I keep looking at this photo and thinking about the people in it. Who are their kids, grandkids, great grandkids? Do they know about this photo? This mob? Do they know how they benefitted from the pain of the Lees and families like them? ⁠

“Owning property is a way that families build generational wealth, and Minneapolis did its best to make that as hard as possible for black people. Generations later, we have the *lowest home ownership rate in the US* and some of the worst economic disparities between black and white citizens in the United States.⁠

“Our main freeways — 35W and 94E — were deliberately build to raze black neighborhoods and physically segregate black and white neighborhoods. Generations later, you can still *see* the effects of this as you drive through the city. Those segregations are still in place.⁠

“Still, in Minnesota, black business owners are less likely to receive loans than *less qualified* white applicants.⁠
(https://ncrc.org/study-documents-discrimination-black-entr…/)

“Racism is structural, systemic, insidious. I’m a person whose family history in this city spans generations, and has received unearned generational benefits (many who used the GI bill to get a house without getting any shit, and several who started and ran businesses).⁠

“White people often want black people to justify or explain their anger. Don’t do that. Your approval is not needed. Your education is on you.⁠

“Instead of asking “but why are they doing this? What does this accomplish?!” Ask yourself what systems created this situation, and why you think *you* know the right way for oppressed people to react.

“Instead of thinking you know best, try to learn what you don’t yet know.

“We are steeped in biases and prejudices we aren’t even aware of. It is our job to pull them out from ourselves and one another, over and over again.

“Here are some useful links to help you put this week’s riots and protests into *some* historical context. I say some because, uh, I’m not a historian I’m a curious person trying to learn, not a credentialed expert trying to teach.

“Mapping Prejudice is where I learned the story of the Lee family: www.mappingprejudice.com

“The Jim Crow of the North by TPT – Twin Cities PBS is a documentary available FOR FREE here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWQfDbbQv9E

“MPD150 has a very extensive history of policing in Minneapolis: https://www.mpd150.com/…/th…/mpd150/assets/mpd150_report.pdf

 

From Nevada Littlewolf

“I live within walking distance of Minneapolis Police Precinct. I have been onsite peacefully protesting everyday this week. I have been shot at with rubber bullets, tear gassed, hit with percussion bombs and watched people hit with “soft” bullets (see below). I’ve seen the police advance on citizens using violence and intimidation. A man standing in front of me was hit in the neck with a rubber bullet and dropped to the ground. As we surrounded him to protect and move to medical station, we were hit with multiple rounds of tear gas. Mind you, this was during the daylight hours as people-elders to babies-were peacefully protesting. The police instigated and fueled this fire. This fire is burning down our city. My neighbors upstairs and next door left the neighborhood yesterday out of fear. They went to friends and family away from here. That is the kind of privilege that I think about. It’s not that I didn’t have multiple friends, family and coworkers call and check on me over the past days—I have safe places to retreat to. I just know that running away from this situation, my home, my neighborhood is a privilege I DON’T have. It’s not a privilege my black and brown brothers and sisters have. This is my home and I refuse to let the police force me out of my home. To be clear, I do not feel unsafe due to protestors. Every protestor I’ve encountered has been there to protest with focus on justice. Local businesses hit. The neighborhood changed forever. And I fully understand and hold in my body the anger, fear, and outrage that bubbled beneath the surface and erupted this week in Minneapolis. This place has a long history of violence toward Indigneous, Black and brown people. The worst racial disparities in the country is at home in Minnesota. This isn’t about one incident, the killing of George Floyd was just the last straw in generations of systemic racism and violence.” 

“Hello everyone!
“Thank you to everyone for checking in. Sadly Gandhi Mahal has caught fire and has been damaged. We won’t loose hope though, I am so greatful for our neighbors who did their best to stand guard and protect Gandhi Mahal, Youre efforts won’t go unrecognized. Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover. This is Hafsa, Ruhel’s daughter writing, as I am sitting next to my dad watching the news, I hear him say on the phone; “ let my building burn, Justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail”. Gandhi Mahal May have felt the flames last night, but our firey drive to help protect and stand with our community will never die! Peace be with everyone. ” #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd#BLM 

“I implore protestors to not demonstrate in POCI communities. Looters and those wanting to cause trouble will take this opportunity to damage small businesses knowing that the protesters will be blamed for it. Let’s reclaim the narrative.”

In St. Paul

“A decent chunk of yesterday was spent speaking to other white males and telling them not to break into businesses or burn down businesses of color, both in Midway and over South. A whole lot of white ‘anarchists’ are out here not from the Twin Cities indiscriminately breaking and burning everything. When we told them not to burn or smash a building because it was owned by people of color, some didn’t care and still attacked the buildings. My friend later put out a fire in a restaurant caused by a white man’s Molotov cocktail. We also saw a black man with a machete enter a recently broken into library and protect it from further damage as local indigenous activists put out a fire in there. Please be aware that so much of this destruction is caused by white men who don’t care about the well-being of communities of color.”

“I’ve been trying to put some sense to what I saw in Saint Paul yesterday with the looting and subsequent burning of Midway and comments of friends and others on Facebook about this situation. I think the dynamic in Minneapolis was different, can’t speak to it. I welcome comments. These are things I think. 

“I want to note again that Saint Paul was not a protest – it started as a looting, continued as a looting + arson, and continues that way now. There were some people who came out to protest and I don’t know that they stuck around long – if they did, it was to watch a show more than to protest (based on my observations). 

“I did not see a cross section of the oppressed communities. Nearly everyone was between 17 and 30 I would say. Most of the people were more milling around in a near-festival-like atmosphere. It became a spectacle. 

“I read people who may be trying to justify the looting and destruction because of the discrimination some communities continue to face in an unjust system. I’m not interested in justifying or excusing these actions and I don’t think I can. But I can understand them.

“I see a lot of people using the MLK quote that the riot is the language of the unheard. But he was sorrowful, not vengeful. I think he felt these actions came from weakness, not strength and I worry that some who use that quote miss this distinction because we want to see a societal revolution to fix inequities. I do not believe that revolution will be led by looters. 

“In Saint Paul, I saw people that were given a license to act without facing direct consequences of their actions. People responded in different ways. The first wave of people that were breaking into things seemed mostly to be there for the destruction. Others then took advantage to grab things or just run into the building to say they had done it. It was a lark, not a revolutionary act. For some reason, at least a few people were consistently starting fires inside the structures. 

“I think we will always have some number of people that want to commit these kinds of acts. I think the more injustice in a society, the more of these people we produce – again, this is not to excuse the behavior but to describe what happens. This is important because in our networked age today, a smaller number of people can overrun the police. That is what I think happened in Saint Paul – the police did not have the resources on short notice to block all the roads or guard all the commercial properties. Looters were concentrated in one part of the city but others struck all around it. 

“I think an unjust system will produce these explosive and destructive events. Like a law of physics, push people enough over time and they will burst. It is actually surprising how much people will take before they burst out. This is an observation – you may as well oppose these inevitable events as oppose a forest fire. Moralizing about it is beside the point except that we try to find some meaning in it.

“I think these events will result in increased inequity and discrimination unless we dedicate ourselves to strategies and tactics that will actually work to reduce inequity. That doesn’t mean policing people on social media – it means making sure our schools work, everyone has good housing, and the financial system is well regulated. It means a lot of other things too – but I’m done with this mishmash.”

Lists of buildings damaged

This list, from Bring Me the News, is not completely up-to-date, but it is the most current that I have seen, and continuously updating.)

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Update in the Middle of It All

  1. Mary – Thank you for your continued reporting on this tragic example of our local (and national) shame. I miss our weekly interviews at KFAI. Stay well and stay safe.

    Like

  2. Excellent post. Thank you.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Protest and Response | News Day

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