Political Matters – June 2020

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By Mordecai Specktor

The police murder of George Floyd

“Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.” – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still on our minds; but the last week of May has seen a series of epochal events in South Minneapolis. I’ll turn 70 in August, and I’ve never experienced a week like this. On the evening of May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, was detained on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, according to an initial statement from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Floyd was pulled from a van parked by Cup Foods, a convenience store on Chicago Ave. and 38th St. He was handcuffed and then moved next to a police vehicle on Chicago. A viral video taken by Darnella Frazier focused on Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who had his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck for nearly nine minutes, including about three minutes after he was unresponsive.

For two days, the video was viewed by people around the world, and anger turned to rage in Minneapolis and at least 30 other U.S. cities where protests and riots broke out. On the day after the police murder of Floyd, I saw a photo someone took from another angle that showed three cops on Floyd; in addition to Chauvin, an officer had his knees on Floyd’s back and another was holding his feet. A fourth cop stood nearby, keeping back bystanders who were pleading with Chauvin to get his knee off Chauvin’s neck, as the handcuffed repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe.”

In an effort to calm the mounting anger in Minneapolis, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman charged Chauvin with murder and manslaughter, and the cop was arrested. The other three officers, accessories to the murder of Floyd, have not been charged as yet
(Editor’s note: The other officers have since been charged).

Of interest to readers of The Circle, Chauvin has been involved in other fatal incidents, including the 2006 shooting death of Wayne Reyes, a Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe member. Following a stabbing and car chase, Reyes was shot 23 times by several Minneapolis cops.

In the aftermath of the Floyd murder, South Minneapolis went up in flames, as rioters went on a rampage of looting and arson over three nights. The destruction was centered at first around the intersection of Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue, by the Third Precinct house (which was set on fire May 28, when the cops evacuated the station). Many nonprofits and small businesses were damaged and destroyed, including Migizi Communications, which trains Native youth in media skills. (I did a number of reports for “First Person Radio,” a program produced by Migizi, in the 1980s.) An affordable housing complex with 189 units, under construction near the looted Target on East Lake, was set ablaze on the night of May 27.

During a bicycle ride around the Southside on Saturday, May 30, I got a firsthand look at the mess that now mars our community. I saw the Lake Street post office that was looted and burned on Friday night, along with a number of other buildings in the immediate area. Going up Franklin Avenue, I talked with American Indians who had organized security for Native social service offices and businesses.

At the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe office, I talked with two women, amid the buzz of a circular saw ripping through plywood as two broken windows were boarded up. I was told that the nearby Indigenous Peoples Task Force had sustained some damage. Up the street, Powwow Grounds coffee shop served as command central for the Native community’s response to the chaos. Donated groceries filled All My Relations Gallery; many of the local supermarkets had been looted or just boarded up, so working people will have problems finding food in the days to come.

Closer to our Powderhorn Park home, I stopped to chat with members of the Debwe Motorcycle Club from Red Lake. They were guarding the Red Lake Embassy, on Bloomington Avenue just off Lake Street.

Finally, as some 4,000 National Guard troops flooded into Minneapolis, members of the Native community secured Cedar Avenue on Saturday night, setting up roadblocks on 24th and 26th streets, creating a cordon sanitaire by Little Earth of United Tribes.

According to a WCCO-4 TV report with Mike Max, who’s usually a sports reporter but there are no pro sports now, the security team had conferred with local police who gave their approval to the street blockade, which was erected in defiance of the 8 p.m. curfew that is still in effect.