Photo courtesy of Chris Robinson

Murder in my City: Inside Minneapolis

“We heard the rubber bullets last night.” “We can smell tear gas from our house.” “‘Fuck the Police’ and ‘Fuck White People’ were spray painted onto the sidewalk one block over.” 

These are the texts I have received from my own family in light of the murder of George Floyd in my home city of Minneapolis. 

My house is about a ten-fifteen minute drive from where the murder of George Floyd took place and where the protests are occurring, but I am currently writing this in the wilderness of northern Minnesota, where I work over the summer. I feel helpless and isolated as I watch everything unfold via social media and communications with friends and family members. I am five hours away from it, but I still feel the emotions that have blanketed most of the city. It’s intense anger at the four officers who all played a role in murdering George Floyd. It’s disappointment at Mayor Frey and Chief Arradondo, both of whom, more so Chief Arradondo, have been solid leaders in Minneapolis thus far. It’s an embarrassment in the city I have called home for twenty years.

Minneapolis is a great city. We are unique in that we have urban lakes and trails located just minutes from downtown. We have a vibrant art and music scene. We are the first big city located on the Mississippi River. But as the saying goes, there are two sides to every story, and the other side to Minneapolis’s story is most definitely not something to be proud of.

HISTORY

First, I would like to venture back and illustrate the history of racism, segregation, and police violence in Minneapolis that has led us to this point. In 1967, riots similar to the ones in recent days broke out in Minneapolis, where things were being set on fire, and businesses along Plymouth Avenue were being looted and destroyed. However, unlike the riots that have emerged in light of George Floyd’s murder, the riots in 1967 were based less on anger surrounding police violence, and based more on neighborhood and housing segregation of African American and Jewish populations.

In more recent years, many will likely recall the murders of Jamar Clark, which occurred in November 2015 on Plymouth Avenue in Minneapolis, and Philando Castile, which occurred in July 2016 just outside St. Paul. Both murders were at the hands of police; however, the officers involved in both of the murders were either not charged or acquitted. Each murder resulted in protests, but neither escalated in the same manner as the protests and riots in the last few days.

In 2019, Minneapolis was rated the fourth worst metropolitan area in the U.S. for Black Americans. When looking at the past and recent history of racial discrimination and segregation in Minneapolis, along with Minnesota overall, it is apparent that the city has been and still is racially divided in more than one sector. The state prides itself on its schools, which have some of the best test scores in the U.S., but when these scores are broken down by race, the achievement gap is one of the largest in the country. We advertise our city’s diversity, yet North Minneapolis is still heavily African American and underprivileged, while southwest Minneapolis is still majority white and affluent. 

These are prime examples of how, throughout its history, Minneapolis has failed to acknowledge and address its own dark side of racism and segregation, and now, as we see everything that is unfolding, I think that dark side has emerged. 

THE VIEW FROM INSIDE THE 612

While I am sadly not able to be in Minneapolis protesting, I know many people who are. The protests began in front of the 3rd Police Precinct at the intersection of Minnehaha Avenue and Lake Street in South Minneapolis, and since then, they have spread to other places in the city. These have also motivated protests and riots across the country and responses from around the world.

As Eamon Davnie, a lifelong Minneapolitan who lives about fifteen blocks away from the protests, accounts, “I was there from around 3-4 pm on Thursday and then came back at 7 pm. At 3 pm, there was a police barrier set up around the precinct with a line of cops in riot gear standing on the side of the building.”

Davnie said that it was peaceful in the afternoon, but, “When I came back at 7 pm, there were about 1,000 people, if not more, all around the intersection in front of the precinct. While most protestors were peacefully chanting, some were throwing rocks and water bottles at the cops, and that’s when they started firing back with rubber bullets.”

Davnie noticed how, more often than not, the cops were firing at the peaceful protestors with the rubber bullets. He was one of them. As he was adding metal sheets to the barricade that protestors had begun to make with dumpsters, shopping carts, and other supplies, Davnie, among others, got hit by two rubber bullets.

Mimi Kol Balfour, another Minneapolitan protester, recalls how, in the afternoon, the protests were, “quite peaceful and jamming, with empowering music and peaceful chants.”

Like Davnie, Balfour also came back to protest in the evening, and also came back to an entirely different atmosphere. She described how, “It began getting violent when the AutoZone caught fire,” and how, when that happened, it scared many of the peaceful protestors, as they were, “tear gassed [sic] and flash grenaded for throwing water bottles at the precinct.”

Balfour got gassed once, but her father and brother got sponge bullets and rubber bullets to the legs, eyes, and arms. They were simply taking videos. 

As evidenced by these firsthand perspectives on what is ensuing on the streets of Minneapolis, peaceful protestors are being treated violently by cops. Davnie says, “As a white person, I think it’s horrible what they did to George, and all of the fallout of these protests should be blamed on the cops.” 

Similarly, Balfour describes, “As the fires get worse, the assaults by police get worse. It’s not one or the other. Peaceful protests get violent and scary, and that is the police’s fault.”

Many people are painting and viewing these protests and riots in a way that villainizes the protesters. They are being largely viewed as the problem when, in reality, the police are at the root of it. Peaceful, nonviolent protesters, like Davnie and Balfour, who simply threw water bottles at police and contributed items to the barricade, were treated by police as if they were criminals.

Balfour said it perfectly: “Water bottles to tear gas and flash grenades are a big jump,” and the police had no reason to take it to that level.

This should be a wake-up call, not just to the Minneapolis Police Department and multiple government entities, but also to every single one of us. This event happening in my home city has definitely opened my eyes to various injustices that I didn’t notice before, and has caused me to have conversations I haven’t thought of having before about various aspects of this subject. Oftentimes, when a mass event like this one happens, things eventually settle down, get back to “normal,” and the event that happened fades away, getting placed into the “tragedy” box of our memories. However, nothing is going to be restored to “normal.” This event will forever be ingrained in Minneapolis, and national, history. Nevertheless, my hope is that, in the wake of this murder, my city can lead the country by example in making police violence a continuous subject of fruitful conversation, education, and change.

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Svea McNally