Spring 2020. The economy is in the ugly process of reopening in a pandemic. Donald Trump feels victorious. His armed and angry supporters denounce measures of public health as government overreach and tyranny. They come out to public and government areas with guns and confederate flags, and walk away free.
MN Governor Tim Walz responds and grants capitalists their right to exploit folks in a pandemic. To the protesters he gives the message that their misinformed politics have agency over the lives of Minnesota’s working class. With little to look forward to in terms of progress, in the aftermath of Biden’s win and the defeat of progressives in the presidential primary, I am tired, you are tired, we are all tired.
News comes pouring in everyday with climbing infections, rising unemployment numbers, Trump’s hubris, the surrender of our lives to capital and the president’s armed base. In the face of all this, the left’s best response was expressed in demands and actions led by nurses and frontline workers demanding protection. Things are looking bleak.
On Memorial Day night, a video showed a white Minneapolis police (MPD) officer choking a Black man to death with his knee, as his Hmong officer partner stood by for nine minutes. The video was heart wrenching. We all watched as yet again, even in a pandemic, the system will stop at nothing to antagonize, murder, exploit and destroy black life. Grief and rage swept a nation already reeling from historic unemployment, pandemic and lackluster general election choices. I went to bed that night angry and hopeless like many in the community. Little did we know how much this would shake our world.
May 26th 2020, the next day, folks hit the streets. Protests are scheduled at Cup Foods, the site of the murder, and at Minneapolis’s Third Precinct police station. Personally I didn’t know what to expect; it was a pandemic and folks were staying vigilant about the virus. I went to the protests at 38th and Chicago (Cup Foods.) When I arrived with my comrades, we were surprised by the massive amounts of people. The streets were packed tight around the site with there being a sustained crowd in the miles between Cup Foods and the Third Precinct. The nature of this action was organic, no organization taking charge, just community and people mobilizing on their own. Communities of colors came out and so did white allies and activist networks. Thousands of people in the street peacefully protest this racist police violence with masks and hand sanitizer readily available and universally used. The protests were chill where there was no police presence and that was most areas Tuesday afternoon.
Into the night many protestors moved towards the precinct. I headed that direction also to see the action. When I arrived protestors were on Lake Street right outside of the precinct, while the police watched over them with crowd control weapons.
The situation escalated and devolved into the MPD shooting “non-lethals” at protestors outside the precinct station. The scene was wild: young East African women were kicking back tear gas canisters. Children and peaceful protestors were getting pepper sprayed with folks throwing bottles alike. Less than a month after armed right wingers demonstrated in the cities consequence free, we were witnessing the same cops violently suppressing people protesting for George Floyd.
Day Two (May 27) the city was back at it. The two sites saw mass protests again. At the Third Precinct the police threw up barricades on the streets where protesters were the night before. Hours went by in the morning where it was tense but peaceful. A few cops with weapons up top and the rest nowhere in sight.
After some hours the police decided on taking their block back by force. The protests were to take a violent turn. Officers began shooting at protestors again. Before long the protesters retaliated with whatever they found around them. They answered shots of rubber bullets with water bottles, rocks and even the barricades MPD set up on the road the day before. As the crowds grew it became evident that Minneapolis’s Third Precinct was in big trouble.
As the skirmish escalated, the cops amassed for a big push on the demonstrators around 5:00 pm. On our side there was confusion. Amidst the shots and tear gas smoke, we could begin to see a large group of 40+ officers in riot gear make their way toward us. The police brutally pushed the protests back, trapping some folks behind their lines and scattering the crowd all over.
The police had succeeded in turning largely peaceful protests into a full blown riot. As word got out, more and more people showed up. The protestors held ground, built their own barricades and confined the MPD to their base. At this point I was out taking care of my arms which had been injured in a fall. I got back two hours later and the numbers had increased many-fold. The barricades were complete; anarchists medics had set up care for the protestors.
Then an interesting development occurred. As the police stayed atop their watch positions, swaths of protestors were breaking in and looting first the liquor store and then Target. When I came back to the scene after leaving to rest my arms, I arrived and saw folks walking in and out of Minnehaha-Lake liquor with bottles. There was beer and booze at every corner. This was something completely unprecedented in recent memory. The street was up in flames and looting was occurring up and down the street. Protestors remained outside the police station resolute in their demand for justice.
At this point it was exhilarating and also terrifying. The people and the state were clashing in the streets of our city with neither side backing down, and escalations not slowing down. I backed away from the frontlines to visit a street medic concerning my arm. If it wasn’t for the kind medics who risked their bodies to give to the frontline, who knows what the situation would have been. I waited for care in a packed area full of people suffering rubber bullet wounds and pepper spray. After my examination they told me to head to the hospital to check if I broke my arms.
They were right; my arms were broken.
– Bol B.