Political Matters – July 2020

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By Mordecai Specktor

Columbus has fallen
We’re halfway through 2020 and the hits keep coming.

I’ve generally kept away from the protests seeking justice for George Floyd (because COVID-19); but I joined the June 7 Native march for racial justice. There was a rally with some speeches at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, then the group of 150 protesters hit the streets. The march wound through the Phillips neighborhood and by Little Earth. In the intersection of Lake and Cedar there was a Round Dance. The street protest ended at 38th and Chicago, the spot where Minneapolis cops murdered Floyd. The intersection has been blocked off to vehicular traffic and is a sacred space; I don’t how the memorial there will be maintained in the months to come.

On June 10, a protest at the State Capitol climaxed with the Christopher Columbus statue being toppled from its pedestal by American Indian protesters. The monumental to the genocidal Genoese explorer has been on the Capitol grounds since 1931.

Prior to the toppling, American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Mike Forcia talked to a State Patrol captain “sent to the scene to encourage protesters to follow a legal process for removing the statue,” according to a Star Tribune report. “Forcia said they had tried that route many times and it had not worked.”

A rope was arranged around the statue’s neck, and Forcia asked Native women to line up and tug on the rope. The statue hit the deck and a celebration ensued.

I contacted Forcia at the end of June, asked if he’d heard anything about a criminal complaint being filed for premeditated statue pulling down. He expected that charges would be filed soon.

Powderhorn Sanctuary
Minneapolis used to be a quiet Midwestern city, but things have changed.
For example, there was a Saturday night gunfight recently in the Uptown entertainment district. Initial reports said that 12 people, all in their 20s, were wounded in the shooting, and one person had died.

The reports later were corrected, when it was discovered that the sole fatality actually had been shot in downtown Minneapolis. Apparently, everyone went to HCMC to get patched up and, amid the chaos, the victims were all lumped together in the Uptown carnage.

Speaking of chaotic scenes, two sprawling homeless camps have sprung up in Powderhorn Park. We live two blocks from the idyllic 66-acre South Minneapolis park, so this is quite a surprise. The two camps on opposite sides of the park now number about 400 tents. The encampments have been dubbed the Powderhorn Sanctuary.

On a recent visit, I talked to Kyle Wilson (Diné), who is a facilitator and spokesperson for the east camp, on 14th Avenue South. A conversation with him was interrupted about every 30 seconds by camp residents bringing up various concerns. At one point, a man with a hammer was about to break into a locked storage shed and had to be persuaded to desist.

As people arranged tarps in preparation for a deluge that was in the forecast, Kyle noted that the mood in the camp changed by the hour and by the day.

Many readers will recall that homelessness in Minneapolis gained a higher profile in 2018, when a predominantly American Indian homeless camp appeared along a highway sound barrier on Hiawatha Avenue, near East Phillips Park. It was named the Wall of Forgotten Natives. As winter set in, many of the camp residents moved to what was called a navigation center, large Quonset-type huts erected near the Franklin Avenue LRT station.

Earlier this year, Quarantine Camp, a homeless camp with several dozen tents, was established near Hiawatha Avenue and 28th Street. When the Minneapolis uprising occurred at the end of May, that camp was shut down and many residents moved to the Sheraton Minneapolis Midtown Hotel, near Chicago and Lake, which was commandeered as a homeless shelter. The scene at the Sheraton soon got out of hand and the residents were evicted. Some of them were set up with tents on the west side of Powderhorn Park and, in mid-June, the encampment spread to the east side of the park.

At this writing, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is set to vote on a proposal to limit homeless camps to a maximum of 10 tents in 10 city parks. If the proposal passes, it would doom the Powderhorn Sanctuary, and the residents would once again be scattered across the city.

You’d think that a functioning government would be able to arrive at a compassionate solution to the problem of people who are unhoused.