By CYNTHIA BURKE
MINNEAPOLIS-In the largest police action in Minnesota history, 600 Minneapolis police Minnesota state troopers and sheriff’s deputies laid siege a few hours before dawn on Sunday, Dec. 20 to seven state-owned houses occupied by a few dozen protesters peacefully assembled to oppose the state’s reroute of Highway 55 for construction of light rail and to shorten driving time to the airport.
Protesters led by Earth First and the American Indian Movement had been challenging the construction through south Minneapolis. They have pointed to the destruction of sacred Native American sites and the neighborhood destabilization it will cause.
The houses were bulldozed down within a few hours after the raid but not until at least 33 protesters were tear-gassed, pepper sprayed, and brutalized. They were then hauled away in police vans to be booked.
One protester, dressed as Santa Claus, mounted the roof of a house and chained himself to the chimney. Police used a fire truck ladder and lowered him into the arms of waiting cops, after the repeated use of pepper spray on him.
The hundreds of uniformed police, troopers, and deputies established a 3600 foot cordon around the houses, with officers posted every 10 feet. The state and city armada included a two-story backhoe, a front end loader, a bulldozer, a State Patrol helicopter, five buses, several ambulances, 100 squad cars, and seven Ryder trucks.
Outgoing Gov. Arne Carlson visited the scene, commending the officers and charging that the protesters were not normal demonstrators but “anarchists.” Democratic Party Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, the darling of the downtown business interests, also supported the raid, as did Jesse Ventura, the “independent” governor-elect,who had received a prior briefing on the plans to attack the protesters.
This violent assault on non-violent protesters was motivated by the bi-partisan authorities’ determination to assert their right to use any means they choose to impose their will regardless of the potential consequences to the population at large.