Minneapolis: a militarised metropolis — Sungenre Soapbox

Minneapolis: a militarised metropolis

My name is Matt Marciniec and I am a regular contributor and music writer for Sungenre. On a normal week, you’d see my name attached to a review of a new album release. This is not a normal week, and frankly, I have listened to less music since May 25, 2020 than I can remember any week of my life since my youth. I am here to talk about something bigger.

I am a resident of Minneapolis, a United States city that has suddenly been thrust into the world’s eye after the murder of George Floyd by the hands of the police. The officer, Derek Chauvin, ruthlessly planted his knee on Floyd’s neck for an unfathomable 8 minutes and 46 seconds, leading to Floyd’s heartbreaking, infuriating death in custody. Being yet another unarmed death at the hands of a corrosive, irredeemable police state in Minneapolis, my city erupted in justified rage, pledging to remain desensitised, pledging to end this heinous refrain of sanctioned violence against black citizens.

Some context needs to be established to truly understand the gravity of Floyd’s murder. The grocery store where Floyd was killed at is overseen by the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct, a particularly aggressive police station with a history of flagrant brutality while terrorising neighbourhoods with a high concentration of black residents. While reforms to policing have been tried in Minneapolis, they are thwarted by the sheer power of the police union. It is they who run the town, not the mayor, and the “Thin Blue Line” culture is impenetrable. Lt. Bob Kroll, an unapologetic and overt racist, allows his lack of human empathy to drive the culture of the entire police department. Kroll will do anything and stand for anything if it means keeping his police officers from any accountability. He has waved off a laundry list of internal complaints and lawsuits without remorse.

Even without considering the unhidden structural crimes of the Minneapolis Police Department, the Twin Cities (St. Paul and Minneapolis) have within the past five years had to grieve the police killings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile. Same story; a few marches and demonstrations in response; no real change. And don’t forget that we are in the middle of a historic pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged black communities. The national unemployment rate is at an unprecedented 20%. While many have been lucky to have gained unemployment insurances, an infrastructure ill-equipped to handle some economic disruption meant many were not. While corporations looted the national treasury and CEOs became even richer, the average citizen, many of who were protesting at the 3rd Precinct, were left with $1,200 dollars and a deep existential uncertainty. Eviction immunity does not last forever. What transpired in Minneapolis was the perfect storm. It was a boiling point. What was repressed could not be held any longer.

We don’t need to be told by a politician or a news anchor what is occurring, and in this historic turning point, we will not let our fight be gaslighted out of us.

I was at the earliest protests at the aforementioned 3rd Precinct. What started as a simple demonstration was escalated by a police presence armed to the teeth, designed to intimidate any dissent out of the protesters. They launched tear gas, rubber bullets, paint canisters and flash grenades into the crowd. I saw a gang of aggressors, who don’t even live here, acting not of an attitude of service to the community, but out of an us vs. them mentality to brutalise out any questioning of their legitimacy.

Disturbingly, the mainstream media narrative quickly shifted to that of “looting and rioting,” specifically of a Target across the street from the 3rd Precinct. Forget the obvious and uncontroversial sentiments that for starters, people are for more important than buildings. Secondly, that collateral damage should not distract from the decades and decades of pent up, justified anger being unleashed. The looting narrative, at least how it is most broadly delineated, misses some important context. Target is a corporation based in Minneapolis and it has a long relationship with the police that are being protested against. The company has been instrumental in highly direct loss prevention techniques while helping the police set up surveillance throughout the city. Target, from the outside looking in, perhaps for those in a more suburban environment, stands as a symbol of comfort and normalcy. Tied into a city’s history of strategically racist housing policies, the comfort that Target represents for others is a comfort that black people have been systematically and methodically robbed of.

I, for a week, watched militarised police vehicles and armed National Guard occupy my neighbourhood. I echo many when I say I have never felt less protected, never felt less served.

The protests in Minneapolis, which are still ongoing, have ignited similar movements throughout the United States and across the globe. Appalling cases of police brutality against protesters are being filmed and rapidly spread, thoroughly exposing a toxic ingrained policing culture. Power structures and institutions are losing their narratives they used to easily be able to fall back on. We are on the ground and we are seeing the movement through live streams and our own eyes. We don’t need to be told by a politician or a news anchor what is occurring, and in this historic turning point, we will not let our fight be gaslighted out of us. Both Mayor Frey and Governor Walz instated an authoritarian curfew behind the reasoning of outside agitators destroying small businesses, but unmasked it was an excuse to criminalise and arrest any protester en masse, and to garner sympathy in doing so. I, for a week, watched militarised police vehicles and armed National Guard occupy my neighbourhood. I echo many when I say I have never felt less protected, never felt less served.

While those from the outside may see a Minneapolis on fire, those who live here see a great community coming together in the most human and inspiring ways imaginable. For example, Pimento Kitchen, a beloved Jamaican hub in South Minneapolis, has reinvented itself as a drop-off point for the purposes of providing safety equipment to protesters as well as providing food and materials to nearby residents affected by recent events. Organisations like Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block and Minnesota Freedom Fund have been instrumental in rallying Minneapolis residents in these historic demands for systematic change and full-throated justice for George Floyd.

While those from the outside may see a Minneapolis on fire, those who live here see a great community coming together in the most human and inspiring ways imaginable.

Because of an unbreakable solidarity with one another and through collective action, Minneapolis has achieved in a week what I would have previously seen as impossible. We have seen organisations like the University of Minnesota, First Avenue and the entire public school system end their relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department. While with past Black Lives Matter stories, justice was not always the norm, our city was successful in demanding charges for all four officers involved in the killing of George Floyd.

Being heavily involved with these protests, I have been moved on a deeply spiritual level. On the third day of protests, I assisted a group of mutual friends to set up aid tents to distribute water and supplies to frontline protesters while administering first aid to those wounded. This has quickly morphed into an organisation we call Justice FrontLine Aid, with the intention of being present at protests as a vital resource to those continuing to stand up for systemic change. We’ve had volunteers maced; we’ve had volunteers arrested; we’ve had medics shot at with rubber bullets while treating the injured. But this is a resilient bunch that cannot be deterred from standing in the way of oppression.

I will not stand for Minneapolis being slandered by those who do not know it like I do. I love my city dearly. I am beyond proud of my city. My city is not done yet, and neither should yours be.