Above photo: Members of the national guard open a security gate outside the Hennepin county government center on March 9, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images.
Instead it’s geared up for war.
The trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed Floyd, has begun – and Minneapolis looks like a police state.
The George Floyd uprising that began in Minneapolis introduced the demand of defunding the police to the general public, empowered Black-led anti-police violence movements across the planet, generated policy changes in cities across the US, and most importantly built new organizations which have the capacity to fight for systemic change for the long haul. The uprising brought a lot of reforms and positive developments to its birth city, too, including a move to actually defund the Minneapolis police department and redistribute funds to services with a larger potential for eradicating both crime and poverty. Now, however, the Minneapolis and Minnesota governments are in the process of undoing that progress and moving in the opposite direction. The trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who publicly killed 46-year-old George Floyd – and inadvertently triggered what may have been the largest protest movement in US history – began this week. Instead of becoming more transparent and committed to undoing the anti-Black image it has cultivated, the city of Minneapolis has quickly transformed itself into a 21st-century police state, pushing even beyond the hyper-militarization and violence that already plague police departments across the US.
For a while it seemed that Minneapolis was headed on a better path. A veto-proof majority of city council members previously promised to dismantle the police department and build something better to replace it. Their attempts were dashed by the Minneapolis Charter Commission that shut down a ballot initiative that would have given voters the chance to abolish the police department in favor of a proposed department of community safety and violence prevention. By this winter, the summer’s ambitions had been replaced by a renewed commitment to the status quo. The police budget was cut by a mere $8m – out of a total budget of $179m – and a proposal to modestly reduce the size of the police force was shot down by city council members and Mayor Jacob Frey, who would be more useful to the world as a Justin Trudeau impersonator than an elected official. While the cut is a step towards disinvesting in police, it pales in comparison to the city council’s more genuinely radical rhetoric.
Some of the blame for this policy about-face lies with the city’s rising violent crime rate and the subsequent push by some within Minneapolis for increased policing. This uptick in crime has been seen across the country and may add fuel to fiery opposition to police abolition activism. In fact, adding more police is hardly ever the real solution to increased crime rates, though it is often the first that cities reach for. There is no conclusive evidence that the overpolicing of the 1990s and the rise of mass incarceration is what caused the decline in crime that occurred towards the end of that decade. A growing number of sociologists and other social scientists believe that there is a abundance of historical evidence that shows that violent crime, particularly murder, is deeply correlated with political instability and a lack of faith in government institutions. Considering the pandemic and decades of unresolved social crises like police violence against Black people (only one Minnesota police officer has been convicted for on-duty killing in recent history), it shouldn’t surprise us that public trust in government is near historic lows. Increasing police presence, especially in moments of justified tension, will only continue this trend.
That seems like the direction that the state of Minnesota, and Minneapolis more specifically, is headed as they prepare for protests in response to a potential acquittal of yet another police officer caught executing someone on camera. Governor Tim Walz has issued an order authorizing national guard troops to be sent into Minneapolis at the request of Frey. The governor has also proposed $35m in state aid to fund the deployment of police officers from across the state to support the Minneapolis police department in the case of “extraordinary public safety events”. The state is also coordinating with the FBI, the federal joint terrorism taskforce, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The Hennepin county government center, the location of the trial, is being turned into a fortress. Several layers of high-security barbed-wire fences line the area around the center and a few buildings around it; they are reinforced with large concrete barriers which, combined with up to 2,000 national guard soldiers, give the impression that the city is ready to fight its own people. Speaking to ABC News, Kandace Montgomery, the current co-director of the local Black liberation organization Black Visions, responded to the city’s preparations:
“As the people of Minneapolis and Minnesota are calling for justice and healing, and care, state officials have been responding in some ways by basically preparing to go to war with folks … So, I do think it’s meant to be an intimidation tactic.”
In arguably its most dystopian move, the city also wanted to pay social media influencers to share messages during the trial to prevent potential rioting. The city planned on giving six influencers $2,000 a day each to combat “misinformation”. In January the city approved over a million dollars to fund a communication strategy that would include community organizations and influencers, specifically targeting “Black, Somali/East African, Native American, Hmong and Hispanic” communities by sharing “city-generated and approved messages” – which local activists have compared to the Ghetto Informant Program that Cointelpro used to hinder Black movements in the 1960s. After anger from community members, the influencer plan has been scrapped, though the city still plans on communicating with local leaders – excluding organizations like Black Visions who helped popularize the “defund the police” demand.
People in Minneapolis are preparing for the trial in their own ways. Some organizers have already planned protests, while others are rebuilding mutual aid networks to support each other with grocery runs and resources in case of unrest. The Corcoran Neighborhood Organization is encouraging text chains among neighbors and has initiated neighborhood patrols. Frey insists that these preparations are unnecessary, but there is a strong lack of faith in the city’s ability to keep people safe, from police, and white supremacists, who have occasionally used moments of upheaval to attack protesters, like the 2015 shooting of five Minneapolis activists by white supremacists during protests over the police killing of Jamar Clark. The city’s plans thus far seem to be more concerned about what have statistically been peaceful protests than with the very real threat of white supremacist violence.
Instead of committing to police reform and transparency – or acknowledging the growing threat of the far right – the city of Minneapolis is, in the words of city councilman Jeremiah Ellison, “showing up ready for war”.
Akin Olla is a Nigerian-American political strategist and organizer. He works as a trainer for Momentum Community and is the host of This is The Revolution podcast.
Miski Noor contributed to the research of this article.