South Minneapolis remembers a year of unrest as it braces for what's next
On Monday, as the jury was hearing closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, it was a typical day on Lake Street — at least typical for the past year.
A lot of businesses never fully removed the plywood that covered their windows after rioters looted and burned dozens of buildings in the days following the killing of George Floyd. At American Rug Laundry, the plywood did come down. But it didn’t go far.
Larry Pogue, the head of maintenance for the company, numbered and stored the pieces, knowing he might need them again. Pogue was boarding up in case the verdict leads to more destruction. Someone broke a window there last year.
“There’s really nothing for them to steal in here. We clean dirty rugs,” Pogue said with a laugh.
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Throughout south Minneapolis, people are preparing and waiting for what happens next. Minneapolis Public Schools will have students return to remote learning this week, in case the region sees a repeat of last summer. At 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the site where Floyd died and activists have continued to protest, neighbors and visitors alike are taking in the gravity of it all. And across the Twin Cities, law enforcement are being deployed.
Law enforcement from throughout Minnesota, other states mobilize
Unlike in May and June, when law enforcement scaled up after the fires to respond to unrest, the state, Minneapolis and several other jurisdictions have responded preemptively with a joint governmental group called Operation Safety Net.
They activated the National Guard at the start of the trial, and say they are coordinating a unified response by various police and sheriff’s departments in the metro. But that response already has brought criticism for the use of tear gas, marking rounds and aggressive arrests and detentions in Brooklyn Center after the police killing of Daunte Wright.
Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said the agencies involved in Operation Safety Net realize they have to fix flaws in their planning around the Chauvin trial. Langer said coordination with more leaders in the Black community should help.
"I hope today is a new day. I hope today is a level set moment. Because we stand on the brink of an historic week in our state and in our country and certainly for our policing profession,” Langer said.
Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong called out the operation at a press conference later in the day.
"We are trying to establish justice in the Twin Cities, but instead we are met with violence,” Levy Armstrong said. “We do not accept Operation Safety Net. It is not a legitimate function of our local government or our state government. If they want to restore order and peace, then they need to bring justice."
Langer said local and state authorities are already stretched with the demonstrations in Brooklyn Center, so the State Patrol is calling in backup from Ohio and Nebraska. Those entities will not be subject to a temporary restraining order issued by a federal judge to protect journalists — at least one was arrested, two were physically harmed, and several were forced to comply with dispersal orders in Brooklyn Center. But Langer said the troopers will be trained to operate as Minnesota law enforcement.
Visitors from near and far flock to 38th and Chicago
Civilians are also coming to Minneapolis from other states.
At 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, Israel Allah said he traveled from California Sunday. He was recording video for friends and family back home.
“The energy is so solemn,” Allah said. “It’s just, the city is acting like it’s preparing for war, there’s fencing around City Hall, everybody is boarding their businesses, and then you have the soldiers around me full-force. These kids is not playing.”
Allah said he worries the reaction from law enforcement will turn any protests after the verdict violent. He also said a guilty verdict won’t quash unrest — the problem is bigger than a single police killing.
A few steps away, more out-of-towners sat around a bonfire. The American Federation of Teachers has sent several of its members to Minneapolis to show support for the city’s teachers and students. Fredrick Ingram is the union’s treasurer-secretary and a band teacher in Florida.
“What happens here in Minneapolis is going to have ripple effects all over our country, and so the American Federation of Teachers wanted to come out and be supportive and make sure that we respect not only this community, but these kids and the teachers that work throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, and for them to understand that they’re not alone,” Ingram said.
Ingram said he’ll be here through next week, and plans to volunteer at the intersection as people come for food, prayer and other support.
Tim Dean traveled a much shorter distance. With his dog, Dean walked a couple of miles from their home in south Minneapolis, as a sort of pilgrimage to ground himself.
“Just thinking about what’s going on in the courts and expecting there to be a lot of chaos in the coming days and initially a little fear on my part, for my own property, but then realizing that doesn’t matter if there’s no justice,” Dean said. “So I came here to remind myself that, as a white man, I don’t have a fraction of the problems the Black community here has.”
He said he’s going to focus on keeping his teenage children safe this week, and on his own personal growth.
“I need to keep reminding myself that I should do everything I can to change,” Dean said, “to not be defensive when people get rightfully angry about the conditions they’ve had to live in and the treatment by the police.”