Little Earth patrols work to fill safety gap after breach in trust

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Jolene Jones looks on outside the Little Earth on April 10. (Photo by Kerem Yücel / MPR News.)

By Melissa Olson

During the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd, members of the Little Earth Protectors, a Minneapolis neighborhood patrol, were caught between protestors and law enforcement. Two years later, residents of Little Earth are trying to improve the safety of the area, but they say trust in law enforcement is a work in progress. A recent report leaves unanswered who fired so-called less lethal munitions at people permitted to patrol their neighborhood.

“Nobody’s apologized. So it makes us feel like they don’t really care,” said Jolene Jones, who was a lead organizer of the Little Earth Protectors.

Little Earth of United Tribes is an urban housing development for people from as many as 32 distinct tribal nations.

In the days following the murder of Floyd by police, community members in Minneapolis called on relatives from a northern Ojibwe community who work as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT).

Leech Lake EMT Jeff Harper remembers seeing Little Earth Protectors meet protestors attempting to march through Little Earth.

AIM patrol member No Face smudges before starting patrolling at the Pow Wow Grounds parking lot on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis on April 15. (Photos by Kerem Yücel for MPR News.)

“There’s probably about 50 community members…mostly women and younger people. And they just…locked arms and said go back to where you’re coming from. And they didn’t realize it but National Guard and law enforcement were coming up on each side of them,” Harper said.

Mayor Jacob Frey’s office had granted the protectors and other community patrols an exemption from curfew, but officers fired hard foam rounds and chemical munitions. Little Earth protectors say at least two people were injured.

An outside review of state enforcement action during the unrest does not specifically indicate who did the firing. Officials with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety declined an interview request.

We were just witnesses
Jolene Jones said Little Earth Protectors choose to engage the community in ways that police haven’t. In one instance, working to earn the trust of youth at Little Earth who like to hang out on the footbridge that crosses over Cedar Avenue.

At first, youth were distrustful of adults carrying walkie talkies, who could be talking with police. Jones said patrols would turn up the volume so the younger people could hear the civilians talking with each other.

“We kept telling them…we were just witnesses. We’re here to keep the community safe,” said patrol member Jackie Neadeau, president of the Little Earth Resident Association. Neadeau also works with the American Indian Movement Patrol.

American Indian Movement chairman Frank Paro has patrolled the Phillips neighborhood. Paro would like Minneapolis police to commit more resources within the police department’s 3rd Precinct.
“I’d like to see more … beat cops,” Paro said. “More police athletic leagues, where they’re interacting with the youth in the community.”
Mike Goze, CEO of American Indian Community Development Corporation, said the city let them know where community patrols would be most needed during the unrest, along parts of Franklin Avenue. Now he worries about the shortage of officers.
“I think the key for any community is, is presence, you know, you gotta be there,” Goze said.

Jackie Neadeau stands outside Little Earth on Sunday, April 10 in Minneapolis.

Five minutes of basketball
Sandra Corona, a Little Earth Patrol member, says she would like to see Minneapolis Police return to Little Earth to do more outreach with youth.

“They used to play basketball here,” Corona said, “Just that little five or ten minutes makes their day.” Corona said.

Inspector Jose Gomez heads the 3rd Precinct where Little Earth is located. Gomez said he’s working to re-create partnerships at Little Earth. He said officers used to socialize and learn more about Native American culture.

“We used to do one barbecue a year at Cedar fields, they would have a homework club where the officers would help [kids] with homework,” Gomez said. “I want to get back to that. I mean, when is that going to happen? I don’t know. But it’s a goal of mine to get back where we were.”

Jones, the Little Earth protector, said during the unrest a lack of communication on the city’s part may have compromised the trust people had in law enforcement. Despite that, she hopes Little Earth residents and Minneapolis Police can begin rebuilding their relationship.

“It’s going to be…one step at a time and meeting needs and seeing if getting back to us feeling like they care about us, care about our community, care about our future,” Jones said.

“It’s easy to break that bond and trust. It’s hard to build it.”