Protest and Response

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If your windows were broken, your family business destroyed, in the protests and violence following the killing of George Floyd, how would you respond? With compassion and understanding, if you were any of business owners whose responses were compiled by Andrea Fjeldberg on her Facebook page. They focused on what is most important: the life and tragic death of George Floyd, murdered by Minneapolis police on Monday, May 25, 2020. They understand that this murder is part of structural racism in Minnesota, and they demand change and justice.

This is far from the first time that a Black man has died at the hands of police in Minneapolis or in Minnesota. Think Terence Franklin in 2013, Jamar Clark in 2015, Philando Castile in 2016. These deaths made headlines and sparked protests, as persistent and pervasive abuse seldom does. Walking while Black, driving while Black, riding a bicycle while Black: anything can lead to police stops and abuse, especially, though not exclusively, in lower-income communities.

Minneapolis police have a long history and culture of violence and disregard for human rights, especially against the Black community. Tony Bouza, Minneapolis police chief for eight years during the 1980s, repeatedly fought against that culture and lost. Decades later, Mayor R.T. Rybak also failed to reform the police during his 2002-2014 tenure as mayor. Rybak told WCCO this week that this failure was due in large part to the power of Bob Kroll, longtime president of the Minneapolis police union:

“We’ve never had a person leading the Federation who is as bombastic, who is as overtly racist, who is as likely to provide comfort to someone when they do something wrong, who is as central to that toxic culture as Bob Kroll,” said Rybak.  “And it is time to name names. Bob Kroll is a cancer on this police department, on this city.”

The George Floyd murder is the first time that the police officers involved have been promptly fired. And it is the first time that a white officer has been charged with killing a Black man.

That is not enough to combat entrenched, structural racism manifested not only in policing but also in racial disparities in income, education, employment, and health. In 2019, a study ranked the Twin Cities as the fourth-worst metropolitan area in the country for Black residents.

“The study found that the typical black household in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington) earns $34,174 a year. That is 43.4% of the median income of a typical white household in the metro, which is $78,706. Typical white households in the metro actually make $17,000 more than the $61,363 national figure for white households.

“While 95.9% of white adults in the metro area have a high school diploma (the largest share of any city in the country according to the study), just 82.2% of black adults in the metro area do. That’s below the national black high school attainment rate of 84.9%.

“Another notable statistic is that 10.3% of black Americans are unemployed in the Twin Cities, compared to 3.6% of white Americans.”

Before COVID-19, poverty among black Minnesotans stood at 32 percent, compared to 7 percent for white Minnesotans.

With all of this, is it any wonder that rage exploded on May 26? The amazing achievement is that rage channeled into nonviolent protest. Protest began at 38th and Chicago, the site of the murder, on Tuesday night. Protesters marched to the Third Precinct police station, where the officers worked, on Lake Street. Police responded during the march and at the precinct by firing tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, and “marking rounds” into the still-peaceful crowds of protesters.

And then came violence. That first night, some attacked the Target store and other buildings on Lake Street, breaking windows, looting, and setting fires. The business owners whose statements are posted above said they understand that rage, and that property loss is nothing compared to the loss of George Floyd’s life, compared to the losses and injuries suffered by black and brown and indigenous people in Minnesota every day.

And yet, even on that first night, the first window-breaking came from a white man, dressed in black, wearing a gas mask and wielding a hammer. Video of his window-breaking at Auto Zone is all over social media, with pleas to identify him.

The next day, action in St. Paul had nothing to do with protest and everything to do with destruction. News media still talked about “protesters” looting Target and breaking windows and setting fires, but that was not accurate. These were rioters. They were not the same people as the protesters. Peaceful protest continued—in downtown Minneapolis, at 38th and Chicago, and even on Lake Street. Rioters and vandals also continued.

The continuing hostility of Minneapolis police to all protesters and their attacks on protesters and press only intensified mistrust and rage, both among protesters and in the larger community. So did the utter failure of police and firefighters and National Guard to protect communities against destruction, looting, and fires. The slowness of County Attorney Mike Freeman in charging Officer Derrick Chauvin and the lack of charges against the other three officers also increased anger and mistrust.

We will continue to demand justice for George Floyd and to mourn his death. Grief and mourning and rage will continue. So will mistrust of politicians’ promises and anger at police.

Trust must be earned by actions.

In the meantime, a war rages in our streets. Some protesters insist that they understand the impulse to violence and that “We need change more than we need peace.” Nonetheless, most of the violence comes from others.  For more information, see these posts:

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