Outrage in the Streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul

One protester wiped a tear from another during a demonstration in Minneapolis on Friday. (Photo: Victor J. Blue for The New York Times)
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By LISA LEONARD

As I sit and finish this today, residents of my community in South Minneapolis are facing off against police for the third day in a row to protest the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. Millions soon after watched in horror and disgust as a bystander-filmed video went viral, graphically showing police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes while Floyd pleaded repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!” and “Mama, they’re going to kill me.” Chauvin lynched Mr. Floyd on a busy street in broad daylight, while three other officers joined in the lynching, with two kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s back and legs to keep him pinned down, while the third kept away concerned resident onlookers. And what was George Floyd’s crime? Nothing more than allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at the local corner store to buy a pack of cigarettes. Floyd was unemployed at the time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When state prosecutor Mike Freeman, who had seen the murder video, was questioned why Chauvin had not been arrested or charged he responded. “That video is graphic and horrific and terrible, and no person should do that. But my job, in the end, is to prove that he violated a criminal statute, and there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.” 

Other evidence!?  Freeman declined to present it. His outrageous statement served to fuel new and more intense protests, so much so, that local officials prevailed on Freeman to issue a retraction – a statement that he had mistakenly chosen the wrong words. He added that there would be a full investigation that would gather all the evidence.  But he still refused to arrest Chauvin. It was only this morning that authorities relented. Chauvin was arrested and charged with third degree murder and manslaughter.   

The charges came today, only after feelings of outrage and horror had boiled over into the streets of Minneapolis as thousands of protestors gathered at the site of the murder to mourn Mr. Floyd’s death and to demand justice for his family and the millions of other Black and Brown people who are profiled and harassed by the police on a daily basis. “I can’t breathe!” became a rallying cry for thousands of people who came out despite the current pandemic. What started as a massive peaceful gathering had turned deadly in the nighttime hours Wednesday and Thursday, May 27-28. A number of police-harassed people rioted, looted and burned local stores outside of the Third Precinct Minneapolis Police Station on Lake Street. Police in riot gear fired hundreds of tear gas canisters, pepper bursting explosives and rubber bullets into the crowd, while news helicopters circled above. One person was killed, shot by the owner of a pawn shop he was allegedly trying to loot. Looting and protests spread to St. Paul and surrounding areas on Thursday. The National Guard has been called in by city officials who are urging residents to peacefully protest, and an 8 pm curfew was implemented May 29 in Minneapolis and St. Paul. City officials state that more than 180 buildings have been burned at the time of publication. 

On Friday morning, neighborhoods awoke to apartments without power. Gas lines had also reportedly been turned off by local authorities, to prevent gas lines being cut in order to fuel more fires. Buildings were permeated from clouds of smoke from the widespread fires, and public transportation and mail delivery was suspended. The city looked like a war zone. 

South Minneapolis is a working class community with a high population of African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants and other minorities. It is a diverse and vibrant community with a long history of radical social movements, and militant labor unions. But the people who live here struggle to get by in a capitalist system designed to keep wages low and profits high. Poverty rates and crime rates are high. Every summer, homeless encampments spring up under bridges and along the local freeways. The anger that repeatedly spilled into the streets comes out of a place of desperation and hopelessness, and now mass fury against racist oppression, as people who are already living on the edge have been losing their jobs as unemployment rates soar under the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The killing of George Floyd is not unique. His death was preceded by other high-profile cases of racist police violence in the Twin Cities, including Jamar Clark (2015), Cece MacDonald (2012), Philando Castile (2018) and many others. Undoubtedly, the role of the police in capitalist society is not to “protect citizens” as is so often claimed. The police are a military organization tasked with upholding the iron rule of the bosses, that is protecting their property and interests. They exist, above all, to maintain and uphold the racist order that is designed to keep the rich, white power structure in place. Multi-billionaires like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have only gotten richer as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world.

The Twin Cities’ police departments are no exception to this rule. Overall, Black people account for 60 percent of all low-level arrests. Between 2012-2014, Minneapolis cops arrested Blacks almost ten times more than whites for low-level offenses. The incarceration rate for Black people was also nearly ten times more than that of whites during the same period. In 2015, 50 percent of all youth imprisoned in the State of Minnesota were Black youth from Hennepin County, where Minneapolis is located. Black people and immigrants have also been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, compounding a painful blow to an already hard-hit community. But no important city is immune from racist injustice. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city with a Black population of 25 percent, 67 percent of infected COVID-19 victims and 81 percent of COVID-19 deaths are Black people.

As I began writing, I heard sounds in my neighborhood of continued confrontation between working class people and the repressive forces of the ruling class elite, who increasingly seek to impose military might to try to maintain a semblance of control over a population of oppressed people. The National Guard arrived today, 500 strong. President Trump tweeted the governor his full support and volunteered to send in all the military forces required. Said Trump with regard to the “thugs” in the streets, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter quickly labeled the tweet as “glorifying violence,” but decided not to take the it down, saying that it was “in the public interest for the tweet to remain accessible.”

Public officials increasingly fear that the oppressed are rapidly learning that there is little justice in a society that has relegated them to poverty and brutal repression. And now their usually passive victims are demonstrating frightening defiance of state power, exhibiting a willingness to stand up for their dignity, lives and freedom. Last night protestors entered and occupied the Third Precinct Minneapolis Police Station on Lake Street. The police retreated and evacuated. The precinct was set afire, its contents burned as CNN and other news media broadcast the events live all evening.  

A comrade in the protests in Minneapolis tonight reports that the National Guard and Minneapolis police and their waiting prison transport buses were forced to beat a retreat in the face of a mass outpouring of thousands of protestors. A CNN reporter walking through Minneapolis just after 9pm local time said, “Right now, the protestors rule the streets. The National Guard? Nowhere to be seen. The state police? Nowhere to be seen. The local police? Nowhere to be seen. The sheriff’s department? Nowhere to be seen. The protesters are the ones who feel like these streets are their streets.“

The mobilizations erupting in anger today, not just in Minneapolis, but around the country, definitely lack a disciplined leadership armed with demands and a program aimed squarely at the state power, whose interests reside in advancing the interest of the one percent against the vast majority and especially against its most poor and oppressed sectors, those who have experienced slavery and oppression for 400 years. Today, as we watch history unfold, as we stand and protest in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in cities like Minneapolis around the world, we must prepare now for the days ahead, likely sooner than expected, when conscious fighters for humanity open a challenge to this racist and classist system that will not be diverted and sidetracked into the historic channels of the bosses parties and their “smooth-talking” apologists. 

Cops out of our neighborhoods!
Jail the killer cops!
End the racist violence!
Jobs and justice for all!
Drop all charges against protesters! Free them now! It’s right to rebel!
Right of self-defense for oppressed communities!
Black community control of police!

#JusticeForGeorge

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