Protests Tear Up Lake Street; Minneapolis Leaders Call for Peace

Minneapolis city leaders acknowledged the community’s trauma following the police killing of George Floyd, but emphasized the need for peace.

Protests Tear Up Lake Street; Minneapolis Leaders Call for Peace
Locals snap shots of the riot's aftermath on Thursday. (Photo by Mike Novak)

Following the police killing of George Floyd earlier this week and subsequent civil unrest on Wednesday, Minneapolis city leaders on Thursday called for peace.

On Wednesday night, Mayor Jacob Frey acknowledged the pain and trauma felt by the community, but urged residents not to let “tragedy beget more tragedy.” During Wednesday's protests, the Lake Street neighborhood of Minneapolis experienced 16 structure fires, along with additional non-structural fires. 

“What we’ve seen over the last two days, and the emotion-ridden conflict over last night, is the result of so much built-up anger and sadness. Anger and sadness that has been ingrained in our black community, not just because of five minutes of horror, but 400 years,” Frey said in a Thursday press conference.

Wednesday night, a man was shot and killed during the chaos that unfolded near the 3rd Precinct police station. While the protesters have been largely peaceful, there was a core group of people causing damage by setting fires and looting, according to Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo. He added that many of the people involved in the criminal actions were not known residents of Minneapolis.

“Our number one priority is the preservation of life,” Arradondo said. “I am committed to establishing peace.”

The mayor has also called upon the state and federal government to help, including assistance from the National Guard.

“We need assistance from the state and federal government. We needed it before this killing took place and now we need it all the more,” Frey said.

As the mayor pleaded for calm, he voiced concerns over damage to critical infrastructures and resources like grocery stores, as communities need them to survive the pandemic.

“If you’re feeling that sadness and that anger, it’s not only understandable, it’s right. It’s a reflection of the truth that our black community has lived,” Frey said. “I love Minneapolis. And in believing in our city, we must believe that we can be better than we have been. We must confront our shortcomings with both humility as well as hope. We must restore the peace so that we can do this hard work together.”

Recognizing the injustice of the killing, Minneapolis City Council vice president Andrea Jenkins also called for peace and calm in the city.

“You have every right to be angry, to be upset, to be mad, to express your anger; however, you have no right to perpetrate violence and harm on the very communities that you say that you are standing up for,” she said. 

The city will be working with black community leaders to create a healing space at the 3rd Precinct, so that people have the opportunity to safely grieve and express their thoughts, Jenkins said.

“Something’s got to change. I am asking my colleagues, the mayor, and anyone else who is concerned about the state of affairs in our community to declare a state of emergency, declaring racism as a public health issue. Until we name this virus, this disease that has infected America for the past 400 years, we will never ever resolve this issue,” said Jenkins.

Businesses along Lake Street spent much of Thursday surveying damage from Wednesday night’s riots, which hit chain stores and small businesses alike. The Lake Street Target, which underwent a remodel in 2018, was among businesses damaged during the protests. In an internal message to employees, Target encouraged workers to attend a listening session hosted by the African American Business Council on Friday.

“You likely woke up this morning–and too many mornings before it–feeling outraged and scared at the acts of racism across our country,” Target officials said to employees. “We have no words of wisdom–only collective heartbreak and compassion.”

Still, Nancy Lyons, CEO of digital agency Clockwork and frequent speaker on diversity and inclusion, reminded the business community of the work that they must do to address the systems of racism that allow killings like Floyd’s to happen.

“One thing I think is important is not leaning on black leaders to fix us––white business leaders have got to do the work. The emotional and physical and intellectual labor of fighting for equity has always fallen on black humans. And without white people working to dismantle systems of racism and supremacy everywhere, including work––nothing will happen,” Lyons said. 

North Minneapolis business owner Houston White called on large corporations to put their community donations toward building up black communities—the way U.S. Bank has done by directly investing in the expansion of his barber shop and retail store. “Form partnerships with black business owners. That’s how you start to get at some of this.” 

The Minneapolis Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals, families, and businesses in the community, has called for justice in the killing of Floyd.

“As an organization that views equity as our responsibility, we are deeply invested in reforming our criminal justice system to become a system that affords the same rights to all people, regardless of the color of their skin. It’s why we bring our community together to discuss critically needed change with national leaders, and with each other,” the foundation said in a statement. 

Chanda Smith Baker, senior vice president of impact at the foundation, added that "our hearts are broken for the family of George Floyd, and for our city."

“Deadly-force police encounters hit our community over and over, and every death is devastating.”

The Minneapolis Foundation said it plans to dedicate $500,000 to support people in Minneapolis in the search for justice, equity, and healing. 

“As a mom, I feel compelled personally as well as professionally to take action on this issue. Nothing we can do will bring George Floyd back; nothing is enough. But we know we must do something, and we must find ways to translate our pain, anger and frustration into actions that repair our city,” Smith Baker said. 

The organization has also recently been involved in a working group, in partnership with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and the Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, focusing on police-involved deadly force encounters in Minnesota.

In response to the events, Ellison said his office doesn’t have direct prosecutorial jurisdiction, which is in the realm of the Hennepin County Attorney’s office. 

“I am confident that the values of accountability, transparency, and justice will be upheld. I will be a force for them,” Ellison wrote in his statement. 

The University of Minnesota, meanwhile, will no longer be contracting with the Minneapolis Police Department for law enforcement support or specialized services for events, UMN president Joan Gabel announced on Wednesday.

“Our campuses and facilities are part of the communities in which they reside,” Gabel wrote in the announcement to students, faculty, and staff. “We must act when our neighbors are harmed and in pain.”

The university will be limiting its collaboration with MPD to joint patrols and investigations, she said.

Marcus Owens, executive director of the African American Leadership Forum, urged Minnesotans to take decisive action to help stem the tide of police violence.

“This is not a moment for a hashtag and then move on,” Owens said in a statement. “How will we move forward with what is left in the balance after the initial shock of the latest incidents? We need to march because the oppressor needs to hear us. We need to protest because the silent need to know we cannot take it anymore.”

Reform will need to involve an investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department and its culture at all levels, said Mark Osler, a criminal law professor at the University of St. Thomas. 

“It is a problem that we’ve failed to adequately address, that the same kind of situation has come up repeatedly, and the killing of George Floyd may be the most egregious,” he said. “What I hope is that this leads to an examination that goes beyond firing officers and doing retraining. There really needs to be a thorough examination of the culture within the Minneapolis Police Department … because it seems that there is a moral issue that is arising from within that culture.” 

Given the evidence, Osler said the Minneapolis police officer directly involved, Derek Chauvin, should be arrested immediately. 

“The evidence of his committing a murder is very clear,” he said. 

The case in whether to charge and with what to charge the other three police officers involved will be a more complicated case, Osler said.

“You had police officers who witnessed that killing, who were standing just a few feet away. If that had been a civilian committing that act, that person would have been arrested immediately by those officers. And they should have done the same thing here,” Osler said. “I don’t understand why that person has not been arrested.”

Moving forward, with tensions rising, Osler said he has a very strong sense of what’s at stake, after living through the 1967 riots in Detroit when he was a child. 

“It’s important to realize the gravity of this moment. Often we don’t realize we’re at a turning point in history when we’re there. This could become very bad. And it deserves the full attention of the people who can do something about it,” Osler said.

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