Dark dark days for my city.
Minneapolis was a nice city, so everybody said. Lakes and parks. Food. Music. Architecture. Museums. Jobs. Schools. Art. Liberal populace. Enlightened government. Common prosperity. Vintage housing. Diverse cultures in a fluent community. Nice people. An ideal place to live most of the year, winter temperatures the most boasted drawback.
One nice evening in late May, little more than a week ago, Memorial Day in the USA, a national holiday commemorating soldiers, sailors and airmen who died defending the Constitution, a man entered a small supermarket in the central neighborhood of the city’s south side to buy a pack of smokes. He paid with a twenty.
After the man left the store with his smokes the cashier at the store tested the $20 bill and found it fake. The cashier called the cops to report a counterfeit $20 bill. A car with two cops answered the complaint within minutes, parking their squad car across the avenue from the grocery store. The grocery store employee identified the passer of the bad twenty as the man sitting in the driver seat of a car parked on the avenue. The two police offers approached the man in the car with one cop drawing his gun. There were two people in the back seat. When the man in the driver seat put both hands on the steering wheel the one cop holstered his gun and both cops ordered the man out of the car. When the man moved too slowly the cops reached in and pulled the man out of the car and handcuffed him, arresting him for forgery.
As I said, it was a nice evening. Rained earlier in the day. It’s the eve of meteorological summer, the lilac and apple blossom time when all those dormant woods of bland gray branches bust loose with lush green leaves. The air smells fresh and new. After 70-something days of covid-19 stay-at-home lockdown, the state governor announced a phase one of opening up of some of the restrictions of commerce and social gathering, and already people were sparked to get outside and walk around, even if wearing masks. A small crowd formed at the intersection next to the grocery store to watch the commotion.
A second MPD squad car arrived and parked near the store. The first two cops seemed unsuccessful persuading their prisoner to sit in the back seat of their squad car. The man under arrest complained he wasn’t resisting arrest, he just felt claustrophobic just thinking about sitting in that back seat. Nobody says whether they discussed sending for a roomier paddy wagon. The two newly arrived policemen are veteran officers and assume seniority of the situation from the arresting cops, who are rookies.
The man under arrest gets jostled back and forth on the sidewalk outside the cop car. He is a large man, difficult to move back and forth, possibly bigger than the biggest officer. It’s an awkward dance they do on the sidewalk as the officers in blue jostle the big man in handcuffs towards the cop car.
If there was any dramatic dialogue between the cops and their prisoner as they waltzed around the sidewalk, perhaps it was recorded on police bodycams.
It’s a busy intersection, E 38th St and Chicago Ave. 38th cuts east-west across the south side from Uptown’s edge to the Mississippi River, and Chicago Ave runs from downtown through the city’s midtown medical zone south to the suburbs. The corner where this took place is a middle-middle neighborhood, a mix of emerging underclass and established working class, blended ethnicities, un-rat race professionals, discreet gentry and a hearty populace of social service advocates. It’s a neighborhood like and not far from my own. It’s near Powderhorn Park, one of the signature central parks of our notable park system. It has historically or traditionally been a black neighborhood forming the crux of a swath about three miles long and about three blocks either side of Chicago Ave and a lot of black families still reside thereabouts.
The big man in police custody that evening was black. He was not out of place at 38th & Chicago, even during a pandemic. The police were not considered out of place either. This is at the western edge of the 3rd precinct which policed all the way east to the Mississippi and kept law and order at half the south side, including Buffalo Acres, where I live, about five blocks from the 3rd precinct police station where the four cops in this story report. Two of the cops were white, one of mixed African-American and one of Asian descent. The two white ones were of indeterminate heritage of whiteness, but they were white.
The big black man the four cops in blue uniforms subdued and placed under arrest was named George Floyd. He was taken to the ground on the sidewalk at the curb beside a squad car and one officer, the senior officer who took charge of physically handling the prisoner, subdued Mr Floyd by pinning him to the pavement on his stomach with a knee to his neck. The two first responding cops held his torso and legs. The senior cop’s partner stood by with his hands in his pockets and watched.
For eight minutes and 46 seconds the senior cop kept his left knee on George Floyd’s neck. How do I know? I was not there. Aha, but as I said this is a neighborhood corner. A crowd gathered. People with smart phones made video. Unedited video shows the alpha cop digging his left knee into George Floyd’s neck. In the course of almost nine minutes the alpha police officer dug his knee across George Floyd’s throat. George Floyd is heard to say in the audio, “I can’t breathe.”
Watching him struggle to breathe, not to escape custody or fight off the cops, you can hear people in the crowd begin to join George Floyd begging for his life. Even one of the original two cops is heard musing whether they might roll him on his side. Twice in the eight plus minutes. The alpha cop relentlessly digs his knee into George Floyd’s neck. As George Floyd suffers the cop seems to gouge his knee subtly deeper into his throat. He is being tortured to death. He calls out for his mama. What are the cops waiting for? The other rookie cop who first arrived at the scene said he could find no pulse. The alpha cop did not relent or relax. An ambulance was on the scene but the police didn’t allow the medics to approach George Floyd until after he expired.
They say they worked for an hour to resuscitate him but he was as much dead on arrival.
The civilian video went viral. All four cops were summarily fired.
And as you know, that’s not the end but the beginning.
Overnight Minneapolis was famous as the city where a veteran white police officer took a knee on the neck of an unarmed, handcuffed black man lying prone on his stomach on the pavement for almost nine minutes and murdered him while the sun went down. Where three cops held a man down on the ground while one of them kneed the man to death while a fourth cop stood by and watched with his hands in his pockets while the man suffered to breathe and called out for his mama.
His name was George Floyd and he was kneed to death by Minneapolis police over $20 and a pack of smokes.
The next day all four officers were sacked by the mayor and the police chief before most people of the general public learned of the killing. A ten minute Facebook posting of the whole ordeal introduced it on social media and it was getting morning news coverage at home and on the networks. Already pundits speculated whether the cops would be charged with a crime. The Minneapolis police officer’s union issued a bland neutral statement asking the public not to rush to judgment. The political organizers who advocate abolishing the police department expressed their outrage. Black Lives Matter expressed outrage. All the hard core leaders and organizations dedicated to social change to eradicate poverty and ignorance, to end racism and stop police brutality expressed outrage. The NAACP, local chapter. Local church leaders. It got around to street level pretty fast. The Nextdoor network. Text messages. You didn’t have to be a community organizer to know the pain of George Floyd and how wrong it was.
A rally was scheduled for late afternoon at 38th and Chicago, the scene of the crime, which was already flourishing as a drop site for bouquets, teddy bears and love notes. The rally would commemorate George Floyd and march east by northeast about a mile and a half to the 3rd precinct police station.. There they would cry out their cause They would denounce racism and police brutality. They would pledge their hearts to eradicating inequities in the name of George Floyd.
Roxanne and I are all-in on that. For us it’s nothing new or shockingly hip but an ongoing thing worth working for most of our lives. We are after all baby boomers who lived through Civil Rights, Equal Rights, Human Rights and careful re-reading of the Bill of Rights, and it would be wrong to call us white liberal spectators. We knew what we were doing, living in the city. We always held up our end of the social contract. It would have been natural for us to join up with our neighbors and hike down to the police station on Lake St in solidarity with each other for justice. But being (better-than OK) boomers in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic we are statistically vulnerable to the contagion of the disease and so we stay at home and more or less phone it in.
To me it’s like church for shut-ins when I was a kid. If someone was sick or infirm they could watch mass on TV on Sundays and get credit for attending mass, whereas if you were not sick and were physically able you had to attend mass in person. But if you did both you could get extra credit, an indulgence, or so said the nuns at St Simon of Cyrene when I was a kid. Roxanne and I were shut-ins to the rally. Our spirits were willing. Our hearts were on fire.
At dinner we observed rally attendees returning from the direction of the police station. Our dining room windows offer a view. It wasn’t yet sundown, which at this latitude is after 8:30 this time of year, and we were having a late dinner because it’s just us and we’ve got nothing but time. We remark how young they are. Kids, we say — a micro-aggression maybe but no offense meant, a kid being just about anybody under 30. Ish. Mostly female. Mostly white. Mostly wearing masks, at least around their chins. I got caught up in a sidebar about other demonstrators around the world who wore masks to conceal their identities from the secret police, and face coverings for women were prohibited in France. The crowds in small groups from two to maybe six, semi-spaced at arms length or so, casually talked as they walked, waves of them, hundreds, reminding me of students on their way to classes. Some of course supported backpacks. A gentle rain began to fall as their ranks thinned with the sunlight.
Then a new phenomenon. As the pedestrians walked westward towards Powderhorn Park and the origin of the rally, cars of young people about the same ages as the pedestrians came jockeying for the open parking spaces. That too reminded me of students who jockey for parking spaces around our house when South High is in session, a block away — only it hasn’t been like this with parking since the coronavirus canceled classes. Anyway, this wave of young people — kids — in Toyotas and Hondas parked their cars and went walking north towards Lake St or eastward towards the police station.
Is it me, I asked, or do more of these kids seem to have tattoos?
More guys, Roxanne observed.
Fewer percentage of masks. More baseball caps. Back packs and water bottles. More goths? Who are goths these days? In some ways all the guys resembled Michael Moore. Or Wayne and Garth of Wayne’s World. I didn’t want to make anything of it, but there was a different sense of purpose in the air. Maybe there was some comfort these people trusted our neighborhood to park their cars rather than the Target parking lot so much closer to the action. These kids were looking for action.
An unnerving presence of overhead heckacopters resonated with foreboding. After a while I determined there were perhaps as many as four different copters up there by the sounds of their motors. They would come from the east, over St Paul, make a loop around my back yard and go east again, and the next one would loop through and so on, one at a time. News media or law enforcement surveillance, I asked myself. Deep down I hoped that if there were miscreants the authorities would protect the innocent like the knights of St Michel.
From my window upstairs in the loft where I write I could hear what sounded like ballistics. Maybe I heard fire works or fire arms. Single shot repeats. Nothing that sounded like machine gunfire. Pops. Like handguns. Or Black Cats. Bigger pops — M80s or rubber bullet rifles. Some of the commotion in the distance involved firecrackers and fireworks pyrotechnics brought by the usual yahoos who cross state lines to stock up on firepower illegal in Minnesota and then entertain the neighbors and get all the hounds to bark anticipating the 4th of July. I could recognize a Silver Salute or at least hope it wasn’t a grenade. Rockets announced themselves by the fump and whoosh of the launch and the subsequent crackle after the explosion. Thus I rationalized what I was hearing was a mock battle of sub-Francis Scott Key quality between fireworks yahoos in town raising hell and a mortified police precinct keeping a semblance of order on home turf.
The police could only maintain a perimeter around its station barely wide enough to rescue vehicles with weapons in them from the cop shop parking compound. The crowds of protesters who hung around or arrived after the initial rally pushed up against the ramparts of the building and yielded little when the cops in riot gear pressed back with rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas. The crowd would not disperse. Just across Minnehaha Avenue from the precinct station the rear guard of the protesters in full sight of the cops busted the glass out of the storefront of the Minnehaha liquor store and began to cart away cases of beer, wine and spirits, then help themselves to single bottles and sixpacks. This could have proven to become a tactical diversion from the goal of seizing the 3rd precinct, distracted by free alcohol. The precinct held that first night as the crowd pulled back and dispersed.
The fireworks died out gradually past midnight. The heckacopters flew fewer loops. Voices in the night suggested people straggling back for their cars coming home from a party and I prayed they didn’t fight. Estimates later counted thousands overall demonstrated and at dawn there were still people there, taunting the cops with epithets and obscene gestures. I thought about the reports and how the gathering had gone from being described as a rally to being a protest with real protesters. That night I slept with one eye ready, first my right eye, then left, hour by hour, and when dawn arrived and I got up to the morning paper and automatic coffee, only a whiff of gunpowder and a trace of trash on the boulevard were left of all the cars no longer parked on the street. No graffiti. No evidence of anybody puking on the lawn. The copters were gone. Day one had passed. According to the news no one else died.
This next day, Wednesday, it dawned on me this would knock the covid-19 pandemic off the front page.
It’s not unusual for my old friend Jim from Door County, Wisconsin to offer perspective on world affairs, but his email that day, what he wanted to know was what the hell got into my city’s police department.
A more portent omen came in my email from my young friend Ariel in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero Mexico, who wrote:
“Que fue eso! Amigo
Por qué esa injusticia asia ese pobre señor! No entiendo porque esa toma de medidas, eso es algo demasiado fuerte para gente y porque hacer ese tipo de cosas!
El pobre señor aguantó 8 minutos con la rodilla de ese policía en su cuello!”
Which translates roughly:
What was that! Friend
Why this injustice to that poor sir! I don’t understand why that action is too strong for people and why do that kind of thing!
The poor man endured 8 minutes with that policeman’s knee on his neck!
I was up here worrying about Ariel and his family under covid-19 lockdown in Mexico with their tourist season gone bust, and there he was worrying about the implications of a policeman’s knee on George Floyd’s neck in my city. It made me think of what he wrote me, in English, two weeks before that, describing covid-19 lockdown conditions in Zihuatanejo: “Too much government (Soldiers and Mexican security) in the friendly center.”
The heckacopters restarted their annoying orbits around the neighborhood about mid-afternoon. All forms of media hyped a massive peaceful protest rally at the 3rd precinct that evening and again the parking spots along the curbs in the neighborhood filled with young strangers in face masks hiking towards Lake St resembling the ones from the night before. Live TV feeds from one or more of the heckacopters showed the streets and parking lots around the 3rd precinct crowded with similar people milling around loosely, many masked, barely keeping at arms length — clear violations of the covid-19 restrictions and an epidemiologist’s nightmare — holding signs and listening to speakers shouting and extolling and demanding justice.
On TV the crowd looked larger because everybody seemed to be trying to keep social distancing, so they occupied more space, spread out among blocks. Still, there were hundreds with more on the way.
After eight o’clock, when the rally was scheduled to wind down, the exodus people returned to claim their cars. As the long rays of the setting sun cast steep shadows and reddening light between the trees, Roxanne and I observed the transition. Simultaneous to the exodus came more cars jockeying for next available parking. Much as the night before the newer arrivals were mostly male, favored black clothing and ball caps and racially white.
What’s this, the night shift, I remarked.
Is that guy carrying a milk jug? Rox observed.
Things did not seem to be on the up and up. It was a feeling. No proof. The later arrivals expressed themselves no more vociferously than the earlier crowd. Something just seemed fishy. Roxanne cringed as a gray Ford pickup truck ran the stop sign on 31st. That pickup hasn’t got any license plates, she said. What do you suppose that means?
We’re see, I replied. I’m not reliant on omens, but as an old timey literature student I look for foreshadowing in every story. I may have even said that out loud.
Upstairs in my loft, my ivy tower, I wrote email responses to my friends Ariel and Jim. To Ariel I assured him the murderers would be arrested, tried and assuredly convicted, sentenced and imprisoned. Jim in more detail I deconstructed the crime and as a manner of metaphorical analogy predicted the killers would suffer an ancient Minnesota punishment, to be skinned alive and dashed with pine tar and set on fire on posts at Minnehaha Falls.
The while I listened from my window to the sirens, the heckacopters and the rips, pops and pows of the pyrotechnics somewhere out there in the dark. TV news depicted a facedown standoff between taunting protesters and lines of cops in riot gear assembled around the police station denying the crowd access to the building. The crowd pressed the cops but did not breach the front door.
Across Minnehaha Ave a mob tore the plywood panels off the broken windows and doors of what remained of the Minnehaha liquor store. The intersection of Lake St and Minnehaha Ave was closed for the rally and now sprawled with hostile mobs controlling both streets in both directions with the police station at siege in the crux. In the dark and due to the perceived danger the TV stations watched from afar and from overhead as the rally that became a protest turned into a riot.
Somebody in a black ninja outfit with a black face mask carrying an umbrella and an ordinary hammer smashed every glass window of the Auto Zone auto parts store across Lake St from the liquor store, caught on camera phone. Without hesitation someone lit the place on fire. Empty of loot, the liquor store was expendable, and every other store front adjacent and around the block across the street from the police station went trashed and burned. Next the Wendy’s hamburger the back side of the auto parts store, up in flames. I always understood that Wendy’s was franchised to a black family. The Aldi’s grocery store near the Wendy’s got sacked next. Everything else the whole rest of the night seemed to happen simultaneously.
The Target store that anchored the block across Lake St from the 3rd precinct took on looters who busted through all its doors any by two or three in the morning every nook in the store was cleaned out, all the backroom stock, even fixtures. Legend says one doorbuster drove a car into the store, loaded up and drove out. The Cub Foods supermarket that anchored the other half of the parking lot on the next block took a sacking. The Dollar Store sacked and burned. An alternative high school located in the strip mall. A nail salon.
On the block with Wendy’s and the auto parts store there was a six story, 189 unit apartment building under construction. They were as far as the roof over the top floor. Somebody set the site on fire. It was projected to open for move-ins in the fall of this year. They called it workforce housing. A portion of the units were designated affordable housing. 189 units. The fire lit the sky beyond the midtown light rail station like a bonfire in the deep woods. From my porch we could smell fire somewhere and assumed the worst because we couldn’t see anything and did not dare venture far from home. The sirens ceased. The pyrotechnics throbbed. We waited for signs we should evacuate. From our front porch it sounded relatively calm. The heckacopters up above staggered their orbits and stayed east over the precinct.
The Nextdoor network buzzed with rumors, some true. My favorite post said she had her go bag ready and was buggin’ out.
Even so I did not fear imminent danger to our homestead which I affectionately call Buffalo Acres. Don’t know why I wasn’t afraid. In no way was I indifferent to whether I wished this place be spared the torches, I cared a lot, but the same instinct that bespoke something fishy about the night shift protesters bespoke an aura of sanctuary in the neighborhood, a feeling that ran counter to every omen — why I don’t cotton to omens.
I slept like a sentry. I heard some of the night shift protesters staggering and shuffling back to their cars. They seemed to be tiptoeing on the sidewalks, muffling their bravado the closer they came to single family dwellings, already reliving the fun I guess, incoherent to me. When I went outside shortly after dawn to look for the morning paper the horizon due north of our house was black with smoke. I ventured up the block enough to see the YWCA on Lake St was intact, but it didn’t look good for the shopping mall on the other side of the street.
Wasn’t wearing a mask, or shoes, so I went back indoors after giving the exterior of the house a once-over. No graffiti. Garage intact. All the neighbor houses. Garages on the alley. The air smelled smoky with a hint of gunpowder. There was ash on the lawn. Clumps of ash. Nothing on the roofs. Also no newspaper. In the house there was no brewed coffee. There was no electrical service.
That meant no iMac. No charging station for each of our iPhones, neither plugged in over night and neither charged above 79%. No TV. No lights or microwave oven. No stereo. No refrigerator or freezer, meaning to keep the doors shut unless absolutely necessary. The power company on the phone acknowledged my power outage report and even knew I was calling from a different phone number from my landline phone number of record on my account. My iPhone afforded wi fi so the power company emailed me they estimated our electric power to return by 6:00 pm. It had gone out at about 3:00 am. Our electronic clocks were blank. Our analog clocks and any time pieces on batteries ticked away the morning. I caught up on the news via wi fi on the smart phone like I was in Mexico.
The London Economist, a newspaper, was covering the story of George Floyd, the cops and the riots. Our city’s dysfunction was now an international story.
More friends from far and wide like David O’Leary sent emails and texted to see if we were all right like they checked in with us when the Interstate Hwy 35W bridge over the Mississippi collapsed into the river at rush hour in 2007, and likewise we and our kin were safe.
The police apparently held the line at the 3rd precinct and the police station was spared at least one more night.
Reports of looting, arson and devastation along the Lake St commercial corridor inspired gasps of horror across the Nextdoor network. The violence spread into the other twin city, St Paul, with devastation along University Avenue, a similar commercial artery that leads to the state capitol. Governor Balz-to-the Walz, a heroic civic leader and public servant during the pandemic, said he’d seen enough, he was calling out the National Guard. It was clear the cities’ police and fire departments were overwhelmed. This was a state emergency like the pandemic. He directed the state highway patrol and even personnel from the department of corrections and the local and regional county sherrif departments to deploy to the Twin Cities to assist law enforcement to protect the public by stopping crime and escorting firefighters and keeping the peace while guaranteeing the public’s constitutional rights to assemble and conduct free speech.
That’s a tough one, isn’t it. Law and order and free speech. Property laws and popular rage. Protection and oppression. Obvious conflict and confrontation. More conflagration, conflation and escalation in store. Roxanne and I weighed all this back and forth like the scales of justice only the blindfold off, or around our noses and jaws as it were, going about our daily putzing and ruminations, weeding the gardens. Roxanne raised seedlings in paper cups and they were ready to transplant, and so we did. Zinneas, sunflowers and cosmos. Dirt on our hands. American dirt.
My mom said her mother told her every person in their lifetime eats a pound of dirt. I guess some people eat it little by little and others eat it all at once.
Michel our daughter offered us to stay at their house, which was still in the city but further from the heat zones. This was a big deal because Michel is a nurse by trade and philosophically strict about observance of pandemic protocols such as the social distancing — we haven’t been inside her house in months. We decided we would stay home.
We rationed our iPhones so we would conserve power until the electricity returned. Another rich world problem, we were unable to do our laundry with our automatic appliances — as if we were about to run out of clean clothes, linens and towels. Or make toast with the toaster. Or operate the vacuum cleaner. Even our land line was out of commission, a cordless array dependent on an electric powered console. And yet the iPhones kept us aware. Kept us woken. By the time power returned to the neighborhood, I was down to 27% on my iPhone and Roxanne 16%.
Electricity returned in plenty of time for the evening news. Minnehaha liquors was a goner. The apartment construction site was a one story concrete ruin, Wendy’s and the Auto Zone in ashes. Target gutted. The grocery stores stripped. The Hi Lake shopping center up the street from us was smoldering rubble — good bye favorite local family taco shop; good bye locally owned Subway sandwich shop. Another Aldi grocery store at the corner anchored a five story apartment and condo residence above, and the residents and nearby neighbors tried to chase off the arsonists who accompanied the looters who broke in below, evacuating the building to the old pioneer cemetary across the street while a bucket brigade saved the building before city firefighters could arrive. Otherwise there were (only) three recorded fatalities to the riots, none at the hands (or knees) of the police. Two would be looters were shot by shopkeepers, and one shopkeeper shot by a looter. There were countless reports of injuries including other shootings and incidents of mayhem, pepper spray and tear gas and bricks and bottles and batons, but overall few casualties. Just a lot of commercial real estate destroyed.
The governor also suspended all mass transit throughout the metro. No buses. No light rail. Taxis?
The unsaid thing about the governor calling out the national guard is that these citizen soldiers don’t just all duck into their closets like Clark Kent and emerge dressed and ready for deployment and they don’t just check their smart phones and go, aha, I’m due to muster with my unit at Lake and Minnehaha in an hour — click, I’ll be there captain. Saying the national guard is coming serves verbal notice that violent horseplay would be met with force if necessary to maintain order and decorum. The tactical issue is for the leaders to devise a deployment plan with objective orders as to who is stationed where, who deploys where and under what circumstances under whose direct command and why. Troops cannot be dumped scattershot across the city. Somebody has to formulate a coherent plan, drawn up on a napkin or taken from a file of prepared contingencies — a plan. Strategy is not a plan. Mayor Frey of Minneapolis was supposed to formally request the governor send him the Guard — same with Mayor Carter of St Paul — and provide specifics of its mission. Hindsight and history will tell about the apparent miscommunication between Mayor Frey and the governor as to who defined the Guard’s mission in Minneapolis, as even Mayor Carter seemed to assume the governor was in charge.
Governor Balz himself served 25-some years in the Minnesota National Guard, retiring in 2005 as a Command Sergeant Major. At the the mayors’ eventual behest and behoovement the governor took charge and assumed full responsibility for the Guard’s activities and went to work planning deployment with the Guard’s top commander, who commenced mustering troops to their armories.
Meanwhile the clock ticked away at the Minneapolis 3rd precinct. Like clockwork the protesters marched again to the blocks of Lake St and Hiawatha and Lake and Minnehaha to protest police brutality and demand the arrest of the four ex-cops for the murder of George Floyd. Again the heckacopters buzzed over the neighborhood. Again the visitors parked their cars in the neighborhood and walked north and east. The traffic swelled looking for places to park, which meant they succeeded further away and trekked by on foot, pilgrims the last quarter mile to the precinct building where the killers used to work.
We have two new tourist attractions in our very own neighborhood, 38th & Chicago and Lake & Minnehaha. Is it too soon to consider the future market of an Aibnb, I asked Roxanne. Way too soon, she said.
Roxanne kept up with Facebook, to which I am not a member. She weeded through news feeds suggesting the looters and arsonists were from out of state. Even the Nextdoor network buzzed with rumors that the burnings and lootings were orchestrated by hate groups not originating from Minneapolis. Mayor Frey and Governor Balz both seemed to foster the idea that Minnesotans were too nice to deliberately wound our social fabric, though Mayor Carter, a black man himself and son of a policeman, kept a healthy skepticism that the violence might not be organic to the Twin Cities. Mayor Frey and Governor Balz, both white and very much Democrats, expected nice Minnesotans to police themselves and each other to keep order in the coming hours and days, at least until the national guard could muster, organize its mission and deploy to the streets. This turned out a little bit like expecting the three other cops to force the alpha cop to take his knee off George Floyd’s neck.
We congregated with our neighbors, ten feet apart at least. Little David, neighbor on our opposite corner on 32nd warned we should wet our roofs with our garden hoses. He said he was at the precinct riot the night before. All he was doing was being peaceful and protesting. He said he saw the mysterious guy with the umbrella and the hammer smash the Auto Zone windows — Little David said the guy wore a police style uniform and did not describe him as a ninja. He confirmed he was hearing on the street that outside agitators from the antifa and ultra-right organizations were rushing to town to coordinate trouble to force a political showdown in the culture wars — Little David used that description — to instigate a race war of the Charles Manson Helter Skelter variety. Oboy. He said he heard guys talking about stealing trucks and cars off the used car lots on Lake St and using them to stay mobile and not get caught. They say they’re leaving stashes of accelerants and explosives in back alleys, sending a couple of neighbors scurrying to check the alleys hereabouts. He showed us a bruise on his calf from a rubber bullet. It was Little David who educated us that milk in the face takes the sting out of tear gas and pepper spray.
Around here the sun sets a few minutes later every evening until solstice around 22 June. The night of Thursday 28 May sunlight faded after 8 pm and again traffic picked up as protesters picked up their cars and headed home and the night shifters took their places. Twilight lingered in the northwest sky until half past nine. I don’t use the word ubiquitous, don’t really like the word, it sounds stuffy and indeterminate, but by now the heckacopters blended into the background and the sky like black crows into the tall trees over a dead squirrel in the street. There was still silver blue twilight towards the west when the firecrackers and fireworks started up like your favorite yahoo uncles who can’t wait for it to get dark to get started with Black Cats and bottle rockets in the 4th of July. I know my favorite baseball bat from the 1980s when the kids and I played ball was upright at the base of the basement stairs behind the furnace. Don’t make me go down there.
After dinner we got a call on our restored-to-service land line from an old friend from our rock and roll clubbing days, hippie days, when we were in our 20s, before we had kids, and to me a friend beyond that, whom I met freshman year at St Bernard’s Academy because the random luck of the alphabet meant he sat next to me in the next row in home room, English and biology, Dennis Durer, also known as Skinny Dennis. After Rox talked with him half an hour I got on the line and we tried to catch up about twenty years with quips meant to zing over everybody else’s head except each other, like old times only worse — with Dennis you’d expect a reference to Mr Jimmy and the drugstore in downtown Excelsior and a simply sung phrase, You can’t always get what you want — indeed we were old. Er. He called to say he wasn’t dead. Not even almost. I confirmed the same. He asked how the Acres were doing — he was hanging around when we bought the place in 1981, house, detached garage, yard, trees, jungle garden. Good, I said, nice of him to ask. I said we were safe. We agreed after the pandemic restrictions ease up he should come over for some coffee and conversation.
Back on my nightwatch I paced upstairs to my desk by the north loft window. Then down to the swing on the porch. The audio was vaguely the same, the visual totally different but uneventful. News came the police surrendered and abandoned the 3rd precinct and the vandals had broken inside the front door.
On my nightwatch Roxanne asked if I was worried about more fires and I said, what’s left to burn? Tactically the rioters used the advantage of having nothing left in the vicinity to loot and burn to distract the growing mob from crushing the police line by forcing a head on collision with the cops that the cops could only win by brute force. The mob leaders probably calculated it was now or never, they could crush the cops by sheer numbers before the citizen soldiers of the national guard could possibly arrive, even if they provoked gross casualties the mob leaders must have calculated they would sway open the doors of the cop shop and invade the place at last.
Rather than endure inevitable personal injury due to outright combat between protesters and police, Mayor Jacob Frey ordered the police to abandon the 3rd precinct. Somehow all the cops disappeared and the rioters invaded and occupied the building. A crew from the back of the mob across the avenue tore the plywood panels remaining across the gaps in the walls of the Minnehaha liquor store ruins and carried the plywood to the entrance to the police station, where a bonfire began amid fireworks exploding in colorful arcs illuminating the crowd cheering the ones lugging the firewood to the scene. Mayor Frey explained that it was better to sacrifice a building than risk lives with a confrontation the cops would likely lose. Unspoken was if the cops would win the brutality and loss of life it would have cost to do so would have forever cost this city any moral karma.
Live and learn. The city cannot fully police itself. Given the lag of the MPD standing down and retreating to other precincts and the muster of the national guard the vacuum sucked in more rioters and looters who spanned both twin cities smashing, grabbing and torching a path ten miles straddling the Mississippi. The heckacopters hovered over the stoking of the plywood kindling that inflamed the 3rd precinct, recording the event live in real time as the ten o’clock news went late after midnight. Scores more fires. Looting. Where were the red lights and sirens? Where were the red and blue lights? Not confined to the midtown neighborhood of the 3rd precinct, fires were breaking out in webs and branches all over the city and all over St Paul.
Offices. Retail shops. Boutiques. Jewelry. Gas stations. Delicatessens. Bank branches. Salons. Pharmacies. Post offices. An Indian restaurant I loved called Ghandi Mahal.
Still, no intentional residential damages. Some underlooked apartments with retail on the main floor. A six story unoccupied 189 unit building uncompleted is all, like counting an abortion as a non-birth. How easy it seemed to be able to extend the rage of the crowd to the petit bourgeoisie. Instead we serve as free parking for whoever these guys were cattin’ around at all hours. It occurred to me they walked back to their cars on sidewalks with the thickest boulevard trees, dodging lines of sight from the copters above. I wondered if any of them noticed me on the porch in the dark, preferring not to light a porch lamp and draw unwanted attention to our front door. Were they aware I was there on the porch swing silently having a smoke, observing the night? How judgmental did I look by corner streetlight? Tiptoe anarchists. Nobody puking on the lawn. My nightwatch.
Friday dawned with fresh smoke smoldering in the air and offering a red sky at dawn. It was getting scary to already be used to nights of riots and days of protests. Ubiquitous heckacopters. Obsequious TV reporting and media. The conversation about racism structurally embedded in modern culture was underway. World wide.
Derek Chauvin of Oakdale, Minnesota, the senior ex-policeman who held his knee to George Floyd’s neck was arrested and charged with murder in the third degree and manslaughter in the second degree. His bail was set at a million bucks. He was jailed at Ramsey County, the county of St Paul rather than at Hennepin County, the county of Minneapolis, for Chauvin’s own safety.
Critics of course asked when the other three ex-cops would be charged and jailed. The county attorney, who a day or so before asked the public for patience and time to conduct an investigation, and like the police union begged not to rush to judgment, pointed out in reply to critics that this was the fastest arrest and charge of a police officer causing death in state history. Okay, said critics, but what about the other three guys?
This was obviously a much quicker arrest than in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery at Brunswick, Georgia, but this is Minnesota and there should be no bullshitting around.
Then President Trump started sniping at the weak leftist mayor of Minneapolis for losing the police station. The president said he expected a tough response to looters and how he was sad to see such a great American city as Minneapolis in such distress. It wasn’t too long ago he called Minneapolis a shithole city of immigrant ghetto crime, a sanctuary city. On this Friday he issued his rootin’ tootin’ remark about lootin’ and shootin’.
Ignoring the feckless president Governor Balz-to-the Walz instituted a curfew from 8 pm until 6 am. Peaceful protesting would be allowed until 8 but then everyone was expected to go home, stay indoors. Again he was counting on the good will of nice Minnesotans. Again directing attention to troublemakers from elsewhere the governor said that by obeying the curfew the peaceful protesters would expose the bad guys who would otherwise use the peaceful ones as shields and cover to destroy property and create havoc. Anyone out on the street, walking or driving past curfew without a good reason was subject to arrest.
The governor also expressed a public apology to CNN for the state patrol arresting a reporter while on the air telling the story the night before. Reporters were saying when they held up their press credentials the response from law enforcement was We Don’t Care. The governor personally guaranteed full transparency to the press of what was happening.
At midday Roxanne and I put on our masks and walked the two blocks up 22nd Ave to scout what happened to Lake St. Hi Lake shopping center was in ruins. Years ago it had a Red Owl grocery store, a JC Penney, SS Kresge and Tru Value Hardware. The JC Penney became the Teppanyaki Grill and Supreme Buffet, a good use of the space. The Red Owl evolved into the Savers thrift store. The liquor store moved to where the Pizza Hut used to be, and Wells Fargo occupied the space of the old liquor store. There was a laundromat, an urban clothing shop, a Family Dollar, Subway and the Pineda taco shop. Snuffed.
National Guard troops in full gear formed an unflinching line across Lake St under the Hiawatha Ave and Blue Line light rail bridges, cutting access to Lake St at the Target parking lot and anywhere near the ruins of the police precinct. A few blue uniformed city police stood by. Citizens like us milled around speechless at the destruction. An agitated black man ranted at the national guard troops about his constitutional rights, his voice echoing and reverberating with distortion to the acoustics under the bridge and he drew applause, though I couldn’t clearly hear him. All around there was spray painted the inscription Fuck 12. Everywhere Fuck 12. We asked four people what it meant.
The first one was a Minneapolis officer in blue. He was embarrassed and offered that is came from slang referring to the ancient TV series Adam 12. The 12 referred to police. The second one I asked was a hipster photographer with a matching leather girlfriend, and he blew me off as if I didn’t know what it meant I didn’t deserve to know. The third and fourth people both confirmed it meant Fuck the Police.
Adam 12? Doesn’t anybody say Five Oh anymore?
Good news the YWCA was unscathed, though a maintenance crew was outfitting the vulnerable exterior glass for plywood covers. As we walked by the crew an elder teenage black girl in our vicinity remarked to her companion, another black young woman her age, “They’re boarding up the windows so the niggers can’t get in.”
That’s not fair, said Roxanne, and the young woman sneered and said right back, “You don’t know.”
Roxanne was ready to talk it out right there but the moment passed and everybody moved on. We moseyed home the back way behind the YWCA and the field house by the South High football field where Vice President Joe Biden stopped by to attend football practice and throw some Go Deep.
What floored us the most were all the people on the streets and in the parking lot with brooms, dust pans and dust bins on wheels, cleaning up the mess. Dozens and dozens of cleaners. Who supplied all the brooms? Who organized all the sweepers? Like the bucket brigades who saved apartment buildings from fires started at street level retail below, and like the rake, pitchfork and garden hose watchouters, the cleaners and sweepers emerged out of the blue like angels predestined to spruce up after Armageddon and tidy up the Elysian Fields for Paradise Regained. Our better angels, as that Lincoln fella might say.
About four in the afternoon we watched a a convoy from our dining room window going west on 32nd St. Beige Guard army Humvees interspersed with a couple cop cars, a couple fire engines and an ambulance. A show of presence. A parade.
Reassuring? Not really. If the National Guard knew 32nd St past our house as a direct bypass to cross the city with Lake St blocked off, then all kinds of miscreant transients might know the same thing. In common Minnesota northland parlance, we weren’t out of the woods yet.
It appeared however that with every commercial building in the vicinity wiped out along with the 3rd precinct, we could very well ask less than cynically what was left to bother with. This night’s rally focused on George Floyd’s final whereabouts, 38th and Chicago, which kept growing as a shrine. It appeared that Minneapolis now had its John Lennon Wall like in Prague.
The rally intended to march west to the 5th precinct station, where much of the 3rd precinct regrouped. Word was starting to get around that the 3rd precinct was a kind of playground of renegade cops — all hearsay, of course. 3rd or no 3rd precinct building, people talked nothing if not accountability from the police. They gathered outside the 5th precinct just about how they surrounded the 3rd. The issue was insidious institutional racism and brutality built into police culture. Law enforcement should never be above the law. And it needs to be said at every opportunity, Black Lives Matter.
There used to be a black guy who wrote opinion pieces in the StarTribune name of Syl Jones who didn’t especially find Minnesotans especially receptive to black people. He called it being Minnesotan Ice.
Time ran out on the curfew. Police asked the crowd to disperse, it was eight o’clock. Anybody found on the street after curfew was subject to arrest. The copters with cameras had moved on from here to cover the area around the 5th. Some of the crowd looked a little bewildered, not sure what to do, just hanging around. Others took the request to disperse seriously and thinned out. A significant contingent engaged and harassed the cops at the precinct perimeter. What the copter cameras caught in the background begged alarm. Fires started at several buildings in the vicinity. The local post office. A bank building known among us insiders at Norwest Bank as Thirty Thirty Nicollet. A hibachi grill. The very last profitable K Mart store — the one built about fifty years ago crosswise blocking Nicollet Ave which became known as our own mini-apolis southside Berlin Wall. Where the hell was that National Guard?
Aha, here they come. Columns advancing on Lake St, mobile and marching on foot. Here come the bigass Humvees. Local news reporters embed with the troops. Fire responders arrive under escort and go to work pumping water but they still don’t know where to begin and it’s too little too late. The Guard columns scare the innocent stragglers into getting seriously off the streets and tease the provocateurs who remained.
The stories of the rest of the night in both twin cities are tales of cat and mouse chases through the streets with authorities following after reported criminal instigators lighting up small businesses and vanishing in the grids of alleys and avenues. Arrest records show a measure of success in catching criminals but do not support the theory the destruction and terrorism was overwhelmingly perpetrated by outsiders. 80% of bookings that week were identified as Minnesotans.
One humorous story has a posse of American Indian Movement security protectors who caught some teenagers looting a liquor store in the neighborhood and held them until their parents came to pick them up, from way across the border at Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
My theory is that the most skilled and proficient provocateurs, whether local or from Indiana, or Russia, are most skilled and proficient at getting away. There was too much destruction to be random. Somebody targeted just about every bombed out building. Not all orchestrated and choreographed by one mastermind, and some of the plots contradict and cross each other in a helter skelter way, but I’m trying to see and to sort out the schemes of who would be exploiting the death of George Floyd to burn down the world’s supply chains of goods and services, the pipelines of goodwill.
Next I extrapolated whether the plot could extend to those working from home, which could involve sacking and burning likely residences. There is always a risk with home invasion, however, in America there’s a chance the home owner packs heat. I found myself trying to extricate myself from a confluence of rabbit holes and going directly through the lens of the broken looking glass.
It comes around to serenity. It could involve talking around and past each other for the sake of keeping the potato hot and unresolved so we would never have to make peace. Like Roxanne that Friday afternoon on Lake St where they were precautionary boarding up the plate glass fronting the YWCA, I feel ready to have the discussion about race any time any where with any body. I’m ready to be teached. Schooled. Everything I know about it might as well be a pack of lies.
I’m ready to start all over from the beginning if I have to. It’s all worth it to me to give everything undefensively to get it right. The things I can change, the things I cannot, the wisdom to know the difference.
It comes down to the man in the mirror. The looking glass.
Emerging from my rabbit hole I’m seeing an awakening to human rights across America and the world inspired by, if not incited by the death of George Floyd. Masked protesters arose in Washington, DC and converged in the park around the White House, prompting the president and first lady to hunker a while in the White House bunker while the Secret Service and Homeland Security reinforced the walls, fences and barriers protecting the White House from the park.
On Saturday the president traveled to Florida to laud the SpaceX manned rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, the first NASA space launch in about nine years. In Trump’s speech after the spectacularly successful launch he went off script and began to ramble about what a good man George Floyd was and how he had spoken with Floyd’s family and extended condolences. Mrs Trump did not accompany the president to Florida but presumably stayed behind in the White House bunker. Back home in DC Trump warned protesters they would face vicious dogs if they breached onto White House grounds. He blasted looters and rioters for dragging the economy further down than the coronavirus pandemic, which he keeps blaming on the Chinese as if they unleashed it on purpose.
In volleys of Tweets the fuhrer urged mayors and governors to get tough on protesters. Aside from his off script non-sequitur remarks at Cape Canaveral Trump barely acknowledged George Floyd. He never addressed any of the fundamental issues laid bare wide open in the streets by Floyd’s death. Never addressed systemic racism. Never acknowledged the original sin of our nation, slavery, and the legacy that never goes away. Never denounced white supremacy. Never acknowledged the constitutional right to peacefully protest things that are wrong.
The same president who weeks earlier got out in front of sentiments to lift the covid-19 lockdowns and open the economy by encouraging protests via Twitter to Liberate Minnesota. Protests in front of the governor’s residence were okay then, and there wasn’t a big fence around the governor’s yard. Now this president tweets that the mayors and governors need to dominate the crowds. If they don’t call out their own national guards he threatened to do it for them. He threatened to mobilize the United States armed forces under the Insurrection Act of 1807.
He got upset with Twitter, his favorite social medium, for putting fact check labels on his Tweets and has threatened to shut them down for violating his first amendment freedom of speech. I figure if cable TV networks can put viewer advisories on the content of their programs to satisfy censors at the FCC, Twitter can post advisories on the content found on their chain network. His rootin’ tootin’ lootin’ shootin’ tweet glorified violence, repeating a trope originated in 1967 by the Miami police chief who installed a get tough policy for policing black neighborhoods, “when the looting starts the shooting starts.”
This is why I occasionally refer to him as the fuhrer.
Later Trump denied he ever heard of this Miami police chief, as if he made the line up himself. It was more plausible deniability. No Russian collusion. Never met this guy or that guy. Didn’t know the guy. Never knew the guy but I heard he was doing a terrible job. I keep waiting for Rudy Giuliani to reassert himself in New York City, maybe wash up on the banks of the Hudson River.
Every time I hear Trump call somebody who disagrees with him and opposes him “human scum” I recall the trial in Nazi Germany during World War II of the conspirators caught, tried and convicted and later hanged for attempting to assassinate Hitler, where the judge at the trial pronounced sentence and called them “human scum.” Trump gets his material from somewhere, he doesn’t make it up in a vacuum. These things aren’t entirely coincidental.
He lied about mail-in voter fraud. He lied about Morning Joe Scarborough. Twitter should put fact check warnings on his tweets. Just like it put a glorification-of-violence sticker on his rootin’ tootin’ lootin’ and shootin’ tweet. You can still read them. They weren’t censored or taken down. Somebody out there is compiling a running montage of all his lies, and historians will publish them for the world to recall that he lied about his lies.
And of all his rants about antifa and far left agents being the roots of the riot destruction from the current protests, he never ever addresses the underlying conditions.
What happens when protesters in Hong Kong march in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the memory of George Floyd?
It’s the Summer of George Floyd.
In Minneapolis the copter cameras watched on Sunday afternoon as thousands held a rally downtown that marched to Interstate 35W and occupied the bridge over the Mississippi that replaced the one that collapsed in 2007. The highway department had closed off the freeway miles away in both directions to stop all traffic for the protest. The rally swarmed over the bridge in all the lanes.
And suddenly — no other adverb will do — suddenly in the northbound lane a big gasoline tanker truck appeared on screen barreling towards the bridge at freeway speed and I said O God! — actually said the word God. Like the parting of the Red Sea in miraculous technicolor the crowd swarmed left and right of the truck’s red cab and silver tank. A female on a bicycle fell down in its path. The truck screeched to a stop just a few feet from her. No one was hit. The tide of people swarmed the cab of the truck and pulled the driver out. “Reginald Denny,” we both said at the TV.
Cops relieved the crowd of the driver and arrested him. He suffered some bumps and scrapes but nothing bad except somebody picked his pocket and got his wallet. None of the news reporters could explain why he drove the truck towards the crowd or how he evaded the barricades the highway crews swore were in place. The news stations replayed the truck barreling through the crowd over and over, the bicycle girl falling down right in line with the right front wheel. Showing the replays the live action coverage went away while the truck was removed from the bridge and probably searched for detonators. Just thinking of what could have happened between the truck and that crowd almost blew my mind. A sensational tragedy in the making averted miraculously before our eyes.
Right away people speculated about the truck driver’s back story. Did he have mean intent and then soften his heart? Michel thought it was an accident, the dude was driving his route unawares, found himself in a protest march and practically pooped his pants. Others wondered if he was, you know, Iranian or some kind of Islamic guy. Ding! Ethnic racism! It turned out the guy’s name is Bogdan Vechirko, a guy in his mid-30s of Russian descent and he was released from jail pending further investigation into criminal intent. Subsequent checks on the guy bear Michel’s theory, an innocent guy who fluked onto the scene and freaked out. Since no detonators were found on the truck I am also inclined to believe Vechirko was just a working man caught up in a situation unaware, and not an agent of the Kremlin under orders to act under cover of being naive and stupid to cause an event of mass casualties to further polarize Americans and disrupt the world’s democracies, who had a change of heart and for the sake of humanity and George Floyd aborted his mission.
Others, I’m still skeptical. There’s a dude arrested and charged for the breaking and entering of the 3rd precinct who showed pictures of himself on social media with loot from the police station before it burned down including a bulletproof vest which he emblazoned with his own name on the back. Who’s going to bail that guy out of jail?
That Sunday afternoon and evening the demonstrations peacefully consumed the crossroads of Interstate freeways, calling for racial justice in the name of George Floyd. If you can call blocking major Interstate freeways peaceful in that it disrupts the norm — I call it peaceful because nobody got violent and hurt people or property (including Vechirko the trucker). Maybe nobody did or didn’t pull a permit to assemble a crowd — a parade — on two Interstate freeways in the heart of the Twin Cities but it was the right thing to do to show solidarity with the soul of George Floyd.
Later when the curfew went into effect authorities began to detain and arrest protesters who did not disperse. It was an act of civil disobedience, and as the arrested explained to reporters who interviewed them in line to be transported by bus to the jail, they were disobeying the law and were willing to comply with arrest to draw attention to real life racism underpinning social injustice.
Monday morning, one week after the murder, the city awoke to relative calm. No fresh smoke in the air. The news still buzzed about the gasoline tanker truck and the crowd on the I35W bridge. Worldwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality emulated Minneapolis. In the shame I felt for my city as the place it all began this time, where four cops ganged up and tortured George Floyd to death on a public sidewalk, I felt perverse pride. If the events of this week went down as a transformational event for social justice then my city would atone for its sins and lead a new reconciliation.
Three things stand out to me from the events of the past two weeks, besides the overwhelming multiracial and multicultural support for social justice in the name of George Floyd.
One thing I already mentioned, the broom and dustbin volunteers who swept the streets and sidewalks clean every day after nights of mayhem, trash and ash.
The second thing is the rapid response to the food desert created by the damning of the neighborhood grocery stores. Volunteers created curbside food banks, drop off centers and organized pickup places to distribute groceries to neighbors in need. If people were stranded or quarantined and unable to come to the food, somebody arranged to bring boxes of staples to their homes.
And the third thing was the block clubs, neighborhood watch and ad hoc platoons of pitchfork, rakes and garden hose guardians who looked out for each other and kept in touch throughout the uncertain nights.
Our Balzy governor impressed me with his get-right-to the heart of the matter leadership — again. His leadership through the coronavirus has been stable and convincing. He used to be a high school history teacher and a football coach, you know.
The leadership from the twin mayors of each city remains to be evaluated. Mayor Carter of St Paul always showed up prepared for business and appeared astute if skeptical. Mayor Frey of Minneapolis wrung his hands and projected agony in the garden.
Missing from any known forum relating to us constituents in the city of Minneapolis, 5th congressional district representative Ilhan Omar and 9th ward city council member Alondra Cano. Other than closed door statements calling to abolish the police department, neither elected leader has appeared in public to give courage or comfort to their people. True, there’s the potential for too many cooks, but that didn’t stop leaders from dozens of other non government agencies from stepping up to accompany the governor’s approach. They could say they were choosing not to politicize the situation, a humanitarian calamity, but that never seemed to stop either of them from politicizing their campaigns in the past. It almost seemed they hunkered in their bunkers, either inadvertently or purposely inaccessible.
My playlist of white man blues for George Floyd might begin or end with “One” by U2. “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen. “American Skin (41 Shots)” by Bruce Springsteen. “Octavo Dia”, a song in Spanish about God’s reservations about creation on the eighth day by Shakira. “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter Paul & Mary. “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. “American Tune” by Paul Simon. “In the Heat of the Night” by Bryan Adams — “In the heat of the night they’ll be coming around, They’ll be looking for answers, Chasing you down. In the heat of the night. Where you gonna hide when it all goes down? Don’t look back, Don’t ever turn around.” If that seems too harsh or too scary to conclude the set, let’s put in “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.
It amazed me after all the craziness of the week that the total death toll from rioting equated to a tiny tiny fraction of the daily toll from covid-19, nearly nil.
Just as I was thinking ahead towards a New Reconstruction, news broke about President Trump. I thought the breaking news would be he finally gave himself a stroke. No, he was still standing upright though it was just as questionable whether he was thinking clearly.
He delivered a speech in the Rose Garden blaming the civil unrest on professional anarchists and declared himself the law and order protector of the nation. He said he would call out the armed forces to restore order and dominate the streets.
During this Rose Garden spiel, off camera, the DC Secret Service and Department of Justice in full riot gear pressed against protesters gathered in the park adjacent to the White House lawn and cleared them out of a grassy swath using tear gas, flash bang grenades and truncheons. Military helicopters swooped low. The attorney general and head of the DOJ William Barr later said the protesters were acting out of control, provoking the police. Most sources say the protest was peaceful and civil when the authorities suddenly acted up. After the grassy swath through the park was cleared of protesters the helicopters lingered close to the grass to fan away all the traces of tear gas.
Then the fuhrer left the Rose Garden with his entourage and walked through the swath now cleared across the park to the boarded facade of St John’s Episcopal Church, where he paused for a photo op of himself holding a black bible.
(Reverend Al Sharpton later remarked he never saw anyone hold a bible that way.)
Then the fuhrer and his entourage sashayed back to the White House.
Back in Minnesota Governor Balz asked Attorney General Keith Ellison to lead the prosecution of the murder of George Floyd. Ellison used to be our 5th district congressman, and before that a member of our state legislature. Before that he practiced civil rights law. Reports said George Floyd’s family asked the governor to appoint Ellison to the case. With the county attorney’s assent, Ellison accepted the job and promised a vigorous and fair prosecution. Two days later he announced an additional second-degree murder charge against the ex-officer who kneed George Floyd to death and charged the other three officers with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
The next day a private memorial service was held with the Floyd family and invited guests at a small bible college on the east side of downtown Minneapolis. Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy which climaxed with a call for white America to get its knee off black peoples’ necks.
Norah O’Donnell broadcast her CBS Evening News from 38th and Chicago, the extravagant four corner shrine to George Floyd. CBS interviewed people from all over the US, Europe, South Africa and Australia who came to the site to grieve and express solidarity. Everyone said from now on everything forever changed. There was no turning back. This moment was the breakthrough. Now or never. This was our last chance. If we don’t get it right this time we never will.
Few events in my somewhat more than half century lifetime have galvanized such a vast array of people around such a united theme. The old Peace movement comes to mind. Anti war. See how that endures. Another was 9/11 and that speaks to my first example, Iraq, Afghanistan, ISIS. The space voyage landing on the moon in 1969 was kind of encouraging. For a while. So was Woodstock. I have to ask myself what is more worth memorializing and galvanizing in this country than the Civil Rights Era. And yet that hardly comes up as a defining and enduring era because nobody really celebrates the legacy of something that was given and granted to people that should have been assured to them all along. The Voting Rights Act. Emancipation. Jackie Robinson. Does anybody else alive today remember how very very hard it was back then to get any white people to care a flying farina about black people?
George Floyd first of all symbolizes a black man under a white man’s knee. Coerced obedience by race. Not a good symbol for the future of the planet. To eradicate this is to eradicate white supremacy.
Next he is a victim of police brutality, when law enforcement goes lawless because it is unchecked by lawful enforcement.
This goes along with another lesson from George Floyd being the power of the state to act or to restrain itself against its own citizens to enforce order.
And last the constitutional rule of law itself comes exposed with freedoms to meet and assemble and speak out against the government itself.
The lasting issue we want to see reconciled by these events is race. Skin. Dermis. Epidermis. Face it, white world, it’s a multiracial planet. And in America, it’s high time to live up to the sacred ideals of democracy and liberty we keep raving about to all the world. It’s time to live the life. Not just talk the talk. No more procrastination. No more jive. Time for enduring reconciliation. Time to live the life.
The Civil War is over. The Confederacy ain’t coming back. It’s time for true Reconstruction. Reconciliation. Restorative justice.
That other thing, the police, that will become the most political fraught issue over the next few years. The four ex-cops will go to trial if they plead innocent or not guilty, and they will be tried separately for the murder. There would be a lot of evidence and testimony. There will be a blue wall of silence and maybe a whistleblower. If the city gets through a spike in covid-19 it could catch a bad case of blue flu.
The latest talk in city government currently is a resolution to abolish the police department supported by nine of the 13 members of the Minneapolis city council. Mayor Jacob Frey went on record at a rally and got booed off the stage for saying he did not support the resolution. Everybody including the chief supports police reform. Attorney General Ellison and state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington wrapped up a report to stop deadly police encounters just when the covid-19 pandemic hit and both of those public servants wanted to keep working for reform. The governor supports reform. Citizens support police reform — everybody resents seeing cop cars running stops signs where nobody else can.
Everybody wants police reform except the hard guys at the police union led by a lieutenant named Bob Kroll. Kroll symbolizes warrior mentality policing. The citizens are the enemy. Politicians are the enemy. He believes he and his comrades in arms are the last bulwark against wild lawlessness in the streets. His bully tactics make arrests of nuisances to keep the jail turnstiles turning to let the lowlifes know they’re being watched, being policed. He’s the kind of cop known to break a window to arrest somebody for the broken windows theory. Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Minneapolis last October and Kroll and his good old boys were invited to appear onstage with Trump and Pence wearing their police uniforms, but the mayor and the chief said no way. Mayor Frey was already in a tussle with the president and the RNC over extra security expenses for the visit. Trump and Kroll both made noises on social media that Frey was no friend of law enforcement. Instead of wearing uniforms the cops who appeared with Trump on stage wore red T-shirts supporting Trump’s support of police.
As vain villains these two are, they each command formidable followings among scary thugs and deplorable bullies who have the capabilities to scare otherwise normal people with prophesies of armageddon. Small a. To most people life without a police department is unthinkable even if most people don’t really meet up with the police that often and the least they are seen the more people feel secure because they are not reminded as often that police exist. Then there are criminals who never want to see the police but see them too much, all the time. Most people imagine a city without a police department as a city in free fall where outlaws with guns rule the streets. Gotham City with no Batman. A free market for private security. Citizens unprotected from danger. Sort of what we felt like the whole of the last week of May, more or less on our own with our neighbors.
Nine of 13 city councilors in Minneapolis voted to resolve to abolish the police department. The mayor and four other councilors abstained or voted no. None of them seems to have a plan for future law enforcement without the police. They are all wide open for ridicule. There’s talk of unarmed mental health professionals instead of armed cops to deal with mentally ill people disturbing the peace. This is going to end up one of those snowflake issues. Until a deluded or depressed person with a weapon kills a mental health professional who is making no progress getting him in touch with his feelings.
Someone could point out to these nine Democrats they look like they’re repealing Obamacare instead of replacing it.
Who will solve crimes and make arrests? Who will chase and apprehend thieves? Who will track down rapists, batterers and murderers? Who will bust forgers and frauds? The past week of looting and arson showed how good we all are at policing our own behavior. I’m all-in for a more perfect union and all that but I know and you know this ain’t Utopia.
This is a good time for criminal justice reform as well as law enforcement reform too. The city’s wisest minds should commission some kind of Itasca think tank to design its optimum dream law enforcement team for the city. The city should draw up the policies and rules of conduct and chain of command and put it to all the cops, sign up according to these principles or go away. The city would lose some bodies for the short term but it could maintain a strong and healthy team over the long haul through recruitment to this new kind of civic law enforcement organization. It’s time to show Bob Kroll the door. He and his kind will not help design the future of policing.
To set the scene, the white population of Minneapolis is about 61% but the police are about 80%. The population is about 18% black (up from 1% in 1967, the last time the city had race riots) with 9% of the cops. Hispanics are now about 10% of the population with 4% of the cops. Asians make up another 6% of the population and 4% of the police force. Native Americans make up 2% of the population of the city (1% of the state) but I cannot find any statistics of Native Americans on the police force.
Still troubling the politicization of the military by the fuhrer to execute crowd control by threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to place troops in the streets. The guy who got out of the Vietnam war draft with phony bone spurs now likes to play Commando in Chief with his mix and match generals and acting defense secretaries who don’t know how to act. His bungling of the pandemic both in America and in global relations exposed his feckless leadership in one big candid expose, and now he’s trying to make up for lost popularity by using the George Floyd reactions as cover to seize power trying to distract from the basic right of people to assemble and scream and yell about perceived wrongs. In that he mimics the anarchists and looters who use peaceful protesters for cover to destroy and steal.
On the day of George Floyd’s first memorial service at the bible college in Minneapolis, Trump issued a statement calling it a good day for George Floyd. A good day. Like how? The man is dead. What good of it came out of things today? Did Trump sign legislation barring choke holds? What. Did he call out for a national — international — dialogue on systemic racism and human rights? Forgive me for being silly.
Critic after critic has over and again cited Trump for committing the Last Straw. And Trump continually like a bad movie serial keeps coming up with one more. And one more. Just give him enough rope, they said, and he’s woven enough rope to form safety nets all around his cargo.
It was too much trouble to convict his impeachment. It would have been nice, just think of the head start we could have had with the pandemic if someone else had been in charge — maybe. In this upcoming election it seems only fair to acknowledge he’s got a running start. And it is important to beat him fair and square, popular vote and electoral college, cleanly and convincingly. It’s important for the sake of liberal democracy to un-elect him publicly and transparently. Anything he can do to un-elect himself in terms of rope and a Last Straw will be welcome for further entertainment purposes so long as it doesn’t screw up the country. It’s apparent to anybody who’s counting that Trump has no positive effect on the national economy.
He has no persuasive power any more. No credibility. Nobody looks to him for answers or inspiration. He’s actually a has-been. Unless he says something really really stupid nobody quotes him any more or gives a crap about his opinion. Except among his dire supporters, and they’re all daring the devil and dangling over the edges of the pier in the path of a tsunami, soon to be lost in the Flood.
Not like being lost in the Floyd.
George Floyd was laid to rest in his beloved Houston, Texas, next to his mama. Nonstop for several hours an array of eloquent black people gave white America hell, and I watched on TV from my home and didn’t take an iota of offense. What they all said was true and I felt grateful for instruction and the expressions of mercy.
Al Sharpton reminds us to save the date, 28 August, 2020. Big rally in Washington, DC. Everyone’s invited. It doesn’t seem conducive to pandemic distancing, does it. Being of a vulnerable age group I expect to be staying home. A shut-in. Watching on TV.