I hope this is the morning after. I hope that tonight will bring no more fires, that familiar streetscapes will emerge from behind their plywood masks, that the work of rebuilding can begin in earnest on Lake Street and wherever fires and vandals destroyed parts of our cities. I hope that today and tomorrow and next week and next month and next year, Minnesota’s elected leaders will stick to the promises they made to address both the brutal history and culture of the Minneapolis Police Department and the deep racial disparities arising from structural racism in Minnesota.
First, we must never forget and never fail to put George Floyd front and center in our accounts of this week. The police killing of George Floyd is the latest egregious demonstration of a department run amok for years.
Second, we need to continue to investigate and reveal the facts about violence in our cities (and other cities across the country) this week. Do not dismiss the involvement of outsiders. They were here. and they were violent.
Some say, “Not so—the majority of arrests were from Minnesota.” Of course, they were. The majority of arrests were arrests of peaceful protesters for curfew violations. Those are not the people who were starting fires and smashing windows and mounting a massive denial of service attack on the state government computers.
Yes, some reports were wildly overblown: the rumors about 75,000 people coming to invade the Twin Cities comes to mind. You don’t need 75,000 people to cause chaos and destruction. You don’t even need 750. I’ve already written about some of the ideological underpinningsof what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, “outsider violence.” If you read the news carefully, you will see more, like this from the Star Tribune:
“Minnesotans have made up the majority of arrests so far in the unrest that has shocked the cities, but people from all corners of the country representing a patchwork of ideologies — some extreme — have increasingly turned up as the protests have grown in size and level of violence.
“Hennepin County jail logs showed arrests of people coming from Michigan, Missouri, Illinois and Florida. One suspect from Alaska had bragged online of coming to the protest with Molotov cocktails.
“’They were not demonstrating for a cause, they were not protesting for injustice, they were simply bent on destruction of property and they were bent on trying to hurt people,’ state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington told reporters Saturday.”
Intelligence reports and analysts point to a variety of groups and ideologies, including the right-wing extremists like the Three Percenters, Boogaloo, and the Proud Boys. They are among the violent, home-grown extremists considered the biggest domestic terrorism threat, long before this week. (Trump’s knee-jerk reaction blaming “antifa,” whatever he thinks that is, has nothing to do with either intelligence or evidence.)
Third, look at the contrast between peaceful protest and police response. Tens of thousands of people came together in non-violent, peaceful protest this week. They remained mostly non-violent and peaceful in the face of violent police attacks.
Saturday night’s massive show of force began with police shooting rubber bullets, tear gas, and marker rounds into crowds of peaceful protesters and continued with police attacks on people sitting on their own front porches and on reporters across the city.
Yes, the protesters were out past curfew. The appropriate police enforcement of curfew is to warn or to arrest the curfew violator. Marching up to a crowd of protesters and opening fire, even with “less than lethal” rubber bullets and tear gas is wrong.
“No lives were lost and there were no serious injuries” was the mantra of self-congratulatory public officials on Sunday morning. The journalist who lost an eye to a police rubber bullet might consider that a serious injury.
Contrast that police action with Sunday’s massive, peaceful protests in both cities. Even when a tanker truck came barreling down a freeway onto the 10th Street bridge packed with protesters, their response was measured. They scattered, as far as they could without jumping into the river. Some brave ones jumped on the truck, hanging on as it slowed and then accelerated again, and finally stopping it. They pulled the driver out and, while a few punches were thrown, restrained their anger and turned him over to the police.
And then the police took the driver away and shot tear gas into the traumatized crowd. They ran, they regrouped, they continued peaceful protest. And after curfew, many of them were arrested, accounting for that “majority of Minnesotans” number on the arrest records.
Finally, whatever happens today or tonight or this week, we have great reason for hope in the future of our cities and state. That reason comes not from any misplaced confidence in police, but from the people of the Twin Cities and Minnesota.
I find reason to hope in the tens of thousands who gathered to mourn George Floyd and to demand an end to police violence and action to undo centuries of structural racism.
I find reason to hope in the multiplication of Black Lives Matter signs on front lawns in my own neighborhood over the past week.
I find reason to hope. in the outpouring of support that lined donation sidewalk donation sites with bags of groceries, as seen in this KSTP reporter’s tweet:
I find reasons to hope in the hundreds of people who turned out to clean up the damage in Minneapolis and St. Paul, on Friday and Saturday and Sunday. If you want to support the efforts, here’s one list of places to support.
But if you really want to help, the biggest thing you can do is to join the effort to undo racism. For myself and white friends and family, that starts with educating yourself. Undoing racism also requires voting, even hold-your-nose voting for the lesser of two evils. And undoing racism means LISTENING to the voices of Black people and Native people and people of color.