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It’s a big deal that the outrage expressed over George Floyd’s death was massive and multiracial

REUTERS/Eric Miller
Protesters on Tuesday gathered at the scene where George Floyd died.

“We should be outraged but not surprised.” The death of George Floyd is the latest instantiation of this almost now commonplace expression.

Different this time, however, was Tuesday’s early evening protest. I’m referring to the thousands, maybe five, in Minnesota’s largest city who gathered peacefully but determined to vent their anger at the latest outrage on the part of the Minneapolis police force. Though the mainstream media, not surprisingly, focused on the violent acts of anger at the end of the mass mobilization — and since then — the important story is what happened three hours earlier.

The mobilization was one of the largest protests against police brutality since the 1992 Rodney King demonstration in the city. For an African-American of my generation, I still marvel at the racially diverse composition of anti-police brutality protests today, virtually absent in the 1960s. Tuesday’s action, like 1992, was in its majority Caucasian.

A different context: the pandemic

Indisputable is the very different context, one in which state and local authorities feel they have power to command citizens to stay home — the pandemic. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, in fact, said earlier in the day that if masked and “socially distanced” protesters could exercise First Amendment rights — as if we needed his permission.

So striking about the protest was how inconspicuous the mayor’s police force was. He clearly had them on a short leash. The masses marshaled themselves — many masks but not a lot of “social distancing.” George Floyd’s death would have made any kind of intervention of the police to enforce the mayor’s latest executive order an even more explosive scenario.

What mobilized so many was exactly what happened in 1992: the inhumane behavior of the ruling class’s police — and all captured on camera.

All so chillingly on display this time was Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee  wedged in Floyd’s neck. Picture the unforgiving jaws of a cheetah gripping the neck of a just captured gazelle. Treated like an animal by a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis police force is how George Floyd’s life ended.

The almost life-ending treatment of Rodney King provoked mass protests, some of them violent, throughout the country. Some of us knew the same could happen here. We organized to make sure the protest in Minneapolis would be militant but peaceful. Not because we fetishized peace. But because we wanted the largest number of people in the streets — the means by which real change has ever occurred in history.

No incentive to act differently

The only immediate solution to such heinous acts by officer Chauvin and his cohorts is to jail police who act like him. As long as municipal authorities are willing to settle such outrages with payments to families of the victims, there is no incentive for the Chauvins and their enablers in district attorney offices and on the police forces to act differently.

August H. Nimtz Jr.
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom
August H. Nimtz Jr.
As for the only long-term solution, consider what former Minneapolis police chief Tony Bouza said in his book “Police Unbound.” The “heart of the problem of both crime and police abuse in America is our tacitly accepted class structure separating the privileged from the poor, and along with it the systemic racism that society as a whole is not yet willing to face.” Bouza, a diehard defender of the institution he criticized but served — what the police department motto “To Protect and Serve” really means — was at least honest. Only with the dismantling of class society and its inevitable inequalities is a real solution possible. Pie in the sky? Consider — a topic for another discussion — the Cuban example that too, like the United States, has long roots in racial slavery and all its consequences, but not its inevitabilities.

A week ago, I happily attended, along with 200 other protesters, the Minnesota Nurses Association action outside the Minnesota Capitol to demand more protection for their members. The early evening protest on Tuesday in south Minneapolis was qualitatively different. Thousands who had hunkered down for more than two months came up for air, many disobediently — the biggest progressive action so far anywhere in the United States under the state-sanctioned pandemic lockdown. Having participated in more than four decades of anti-police brutality marches, Tuesday, I argue, was a big deal.

Mass protests in the midst of the 1918-1919 influenza scourge, including here in Minnesota, teach that the class struggle doesn’t go away in a pandemic. Minneapolis, May 26, 2020, confirms that truth.

August H. Nimtz Jr. is a professor of political science and African American and African Studies and Distinguished Teaching Professor, University of Minnesota.


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Comments (49)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/28/2020 - 11:40 am.

    I’m not sure where the Cuba bit comes in. As bad as the United States is, it never has even approached the miserable failure that Cuba has been.

    • Submitted by Tory Koburn on 05/28/2020 - 03:20 pm.

      Other than literacy rates and healthcare, sure.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/28/2020 - 05:58 pm.

        Nope. The idea that Cuba has a superior healthcare system is a bad joke. Unless you take the word of the repressive dictatorship that has run Cuba for 60 years and punishes criticism of the government with imprisonment.

        The saddest thing about the Cuban healthcare system is that its doctors make $25 a month, and can’t leave to work for more. Or complain or strike for better wages. Because they live in a repressive dictatorship that punishes dissent. Obviously, a system that depends on paying its doctors $25 a month has no application in a free society.

      • Submitted by Tim Lister on 05/29/2020 - 12:26 am.

        Yes, they can all read by candlelight every night during the months or years it takes to finally get an appointment with their local overworked doctor who lacks basic medical supplies. How nice.

  2. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 05/28/2020 - 12:32 pm.

    I agree with the author and former Chief Bouza. We have too many racist, headknocking cops on the MPD force. They join the force for a daily adrenaline rush and a lucrative early retirement. They see the people of the city not as people they serve and protect, but rather as animals they are charged with controlling when they leave their suburban homes to complete their work shift.

    Is it 1% or 99% of the force? Who knows?

    We do know that a majority support their union chief, Bob Kroll, who has done nothing to indicate that there even is a problem, much less do anything about it. We do know that Kroll relished the opportunity to stand with a President that has encouraged cops:

    “When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just seen them thrown in, rough. I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” he said.

    “When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head you know, the way you put their hand over [their head],” Trump continued, mimicking the motion. “Like, ‘Don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head.’ I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?'”

    And found “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville VA.

    Like the President he admires, Kroll is incapable of setting a good example.

    By charging, convicting and sending Derek Chauvin to prison may cause some of these cops to change their ways or better yet, find a new career.

    Going forward a determined effort is needed to recruit new cops out of the neighborhoods of the city. A great way to start is in our schools. And example can be found in Nashville where a law enforcement track is offered to their high school students:

    Criminal Justice and Correction Services
    (Academy of Education & Law)
    The Criminal Justice and Correction Services program of study prepares students for a range of careers in law enforcement, crime scene analysis, forensic science, public safety, and criminal justice. Course content emphasizes procedures and laws governing the application of justice in the United States, from constitutional rights to crisis scenario management and the elements of criminal investigations. Upon completion of this program of study, students will be equipped with the knowledge and skill preparation for postsecondary or career opportunities in many law- and justice-related fields.

    From here, successful graduates should be offered tuition free post-secondary education in law enforcement and upon successful completion of that be given priority to join the MPD. And additionally, if they live in the city they should be given housing incentives. Building up a force of homegrown, neighborhood cops is the only real solution to the problem.

    All of this could have been financed by the millions the city will provide to the family of George Floyd to settle the situation caused by Derek Chauvin.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 05/28/2020 - 01:19 pm.


      Pat Reusse had a great column on this today:

      “And then the anger simmered through the cellphone and Williams said: “Ryan has an understanding for this, about what’s going on. But he doesn’t know the feeling. He can’t know the feeling.”

      Ryan’s white. I’m white.”

      Which causes me some hesitation to comment but:

      Mayor Frey and Chief Arrondondo immediately fired the 4 officers.

      Key individuals in insuring justice is served are MN AG Keith Ellision and MN Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. Harrington had a good record as St Paul Chief and Ellision was elected largely on criminal justice activism.

      We should have confidence that going forward justice will be served and we won’t see any cover ups or the delays of Eric Garner here.

  3. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 05/28/2020 - 02:19 pm.

    This isn’t about class or race. This is about cops that are completely out of control and think they are god. It’s about a power trip that some of these guys are on, and a complete unwillingness of their fellow officers to intercede or hold officers who violate the law and/or use excessive force accountable.

    This is enabled by a system with union contracts, where police chiefs who want to get rid of bad cops are over ruled by arbitrators.

    The whole system stinks. Cops shouldn’t be treated any differently than any other person. This cop should have been immediately arrested, just like any other person that would kill someone like this. Any investigation should proceed while he is in jail, just like any other murder case.

    • Submitted by Tim Lister on 05/29/2020 - 12:28 am.

      Everything you said is true. But the conversation is being framed quite differently which leads me to believe nothing will change in the long run or the cure will be worse than the disease.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/01/2020 - 03:52 pm.

      It isn’t, but it is. It’s no coincidence that there’s a higher rate of injury and death by cop among people of color. There are lots of factors at play, but many of them are less about the conscious racism of any cop or group of cops than they are the result of a combination of systemic/historic racism and inherent bias. That is, non-white officers (including black officers) are more prone to using force against black people at approximately the same rate as white officers, even when you normalize based on other factors. Hard to say that it’s solely about white officers wanting to victimize black people if black officers are just as likely to be more violent when they have a black person in custody.

      So, what’s going on if it’s not solely outright racism? Are we simply putting more violent cops in neighborhoods with higher minority populations? Are the cops in minority neighborhoods less vested? Are the cops in minority neighborhoods badly trained?

      It can’t be just these things, either, because people of color still face higher rates of use of force in areas with low concentrations of people of color.

      Are cops being trained to be afraid of the people they serve (I honestly think this is a BIG part of the problem)? This might explain a lot of the issues where conscious racism isn’t clearly present. Warrior-style police training is a huge problem, IMO. There’s nothing like training someone into PTSD and then giving them a gun and telling them that their constituents are out to get them. Add a little simmering racism on top of that, and every black guy looks like a threat ripe for killing. And the City of Minneapolis agrees–it’s banned there. But the union still offers it…

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/01/2020 - 04:15 pm.

        I want to mention that there’s an excellent article on the factors that may contribute to discrimination, particularly against black males. It’s called “Black and Blue: Exploring Racial Bias and Law Enforcement in the Killings of Unarmed Black Male Civilians.” Yes, it’s academic, but it is a very good analysis of at least some of the factors at play. The solution isn’t simple, but it may need to start by re-evaluating whether the typical law enforcement candidate is even the right candidate for the job.

  4. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 05/28/2020 - 07:09 pm.

    Literacy figures are verified by UNESCO, but if figures don’t come from MSNBC, CNN, NYT, or Wapo, or other sites promoting illegal wars it is nonsense to you.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/29/2020 - 11:12 am.

      Maybe the literacy rates are accurate. Its too bad Cuba’s repressive dictatorship controls what its citizens can read.

  5. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/28/2020 - 10:36 pm.

    Thankfully, the Mayor blamed the police for the reaction to the protesters in Thursday’s Strib. The resulting chaos is the direct result of his support of the protesters and giving them approval. Well done Mayor! Destroyed businesses and damage to both private and public property should be paid for by the City of Minneapolis and the Mayor.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/29/2020 - 11:13 am.

      He was simply telling the truth.

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/30/2020 - 09:52 pm.

        As my previous post was, of course, moderated, please note that the Strib said that the Mayor totally failed. When the Red Star says that a liberal mayor failed, that’s saying that I’m right.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/01/2020 - 12:39 pm.

          No, it just shows you have no idea what you are talking about. The Strib is owned by Republican Glen Taylor, who has made some horribly tone deaf and racist statements this week.

          • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/01/2020 - 10:03 pm.

            So the Strib editorial pages are controlled by Republican Glen Taylor. Please take them to task for that. And show me all the endorsements of the Editorial Board (Glen Taylor) that are Republicans, but just in the last decade, and not in “safe GOP districts”. I think that I know just a tiny bit more than you in this matter.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/29/2020 - 11:52 am.

      Yes, he should have stood by and nodded with approval when the police tear gassed and shot rubber bullets at peaceful protesters. What’s the world coming to when a cop can’t slowly strangle life out of a non-resisting arrestee without all the SJWs getting in a tizzy?

      I don’t know if you realize this, but there still is a right to protest in this country. The First Amendment applies to all of us, not just lying wannabe despots who resent being fact-checked.

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/30/2020 - 09:54 pm.

        As my previous post was moderated, please note that Governor Walz says that the city and state reaction was a total failure, thus proving that my comment was right on the money.

    • Submitted by Debra Hoffman on 05/29/2020 - 01:48 pm.

      I blame the officers who murdered and/or stood by and watched the murder of George Floyd. Those policemen should pay for all the damage they have done – both with money for property damage and with a long prison sentence for ending a human being’s life.

  6. Submitted by tom kendrick on 05/28/2020 - 10:57 pm.

    The literacy rates in Cuba are extremely high. But that has nothing to do with Castro’s values but is due to the fact that Spanish is a phonetically extremely consistent language. English is on the other end of the spectrum. We are working very hard, as educators, but we will never win that battle.

  7. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/28/2020 - 11:04 pm.

    Peaceful protest is the only legitimate way to protest injustice. Doing a crime to protest one makes no sense. Many make a mental connection between peaceful protest and the serious violence that happened Wednesday night and continued today. Vandalism, arson and looting are self serving acts that make it less likely that justice will prevail.

    The arson of a nearly finished affordable housing building that maybe could have housed 400 children without stable housing – totally irrational and destructive. How could anyone who cares about the community do that? Stealing big screen TV sets is not an idealistic act of protest. It is totally selfish and opportunistic. Blame shifting is not going to cut it.

    It is essential to catch those who are doing these crimes, to make sure peaceful protesters are not held responsible for things they didn’t do. Do the crime – do the time. Works equally well for people starting fires, cheating their customers or being uniformed thugs.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/29/2020 - 11:59 am.

      I find it interesting that the real outrage is being directed against those who have committed property crimes.

      It doesn’t make sense, but no one said it made sense. As James Baldwin put it, so many years ago, “Who is looting whom? Grabbing off the TV set? He doesn’t really want the TV set. He’s saying screw you. It’s just judgment, by the way, on the value of the TV set. He doesn’t want it. He wants to let you know he’s there.”

      • Submitted by BK Anderson on 05/29/2020 - 04:04 pm.

        Unfortunately, cascading events are provoking more than enough (legitimate) outrage to go around…

      • Submitted by Tom Crain on 05/30/2020 - 01:33 pm.

        I think you’re attributing too much into the intentions of the people looting. They want the TV set (or shopping cart full of clothes, or whatever) or they would just smash it or burn it, not carry it away. Many of these people are not protesting anything, they simple see an opportunity for stealing or reveling in chaos.

        I can understand the destruction of property as a form of protest esp. symbols of real or perceived oppression like the police precinct or corp retail chains. I don’t think this action is effective, but I understand the desire to get the attention of the people in power. However, Illegal actions can be done peacefully, for example marches and sit-ins that shut down and disrupt commerce.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/01/2020 - 09:14 am.

          “However, Illegal actions can be done peacefully, for example marches and sit-ins that shut down and disrupt commerce.”

          That has been tried, to no avail. Do you not recall the outrage that was generated when BLM blocked freeways? Did those objecting to the protests say “Good on them for not destroying anything”?

        • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/01/2020 - 04:00 pm.

          Oh come on. A black football player kneels during the National Anthem and white America loses their collective mind. Black musician mentions something about racial injustice at an awards ceremony, and white America tells them to shut up and be thankful. Saying that peaceful protest is the ONLY legitimate way to deal with injustice is simply an excuse to keep it convenient for the rest of us while we tell black people that they should shut up and keep out of sight.

    • Submitted by T.W. Day on 06/01/2020 - 12:50 pm.

      You mean like the “peaceful protest” that fired up the nutty right again? st Colin Kaepernick? Face it, advocating for change in the US has always demanded violence because that is the language we use from the federal government to gun right citizens protecting their “right” to murder their friends, families, and neighbors. The U.S. has been at war for 225 out of 242 years. It’s who we are.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2020 - 12:05 pm.

    This was purely and simply a open demonstration of police power. This was a slow motion, hands-free murder. The only thing those cops were doing was showing the crowd, and Floyd, how powerful they are, and what happens to “bad guys” they encounter. Law enforcement here was almost a secondary activity subordinate to the demonstration of power. The message here was: “This is how we deal with bad guys, and here’s a middle finger for anyone doesn’t like it.”

    The fact that four officers in the MPD are still operating with this mentality after ALL of the deaths, and demonstrations, and the siege of the 4th Precinct… tells us that whatever the Mayor and Chief’s have been doing, it has clearly not penetrated the rank-n-file consciousness. The fact that these cops thought that this use of force and demonstration of power was appropriate tells us that almost nothing has changed substantially. Unless you think that the only four cops in the entire force just happened to converge on this one suspect that afternoon.

    And look at what that 8 minute demonstration has caused… beyond the death of a man it’s set the entire country on fire, it’s humiliated the force, and the leadership, and it’s tearing at the fabric of our community. And it didn’t occur to a 19 year veteran or anyone else to even think about any of that while they restraining a suspect for a possible misdemeanor offense. NONE of these cops stepped back and wondered what might happen if they killed or seriously injured Floyd… it just wasn’t on their radar.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2020 - 12:14 pm.

    Look, as far as Cuba is concerned… we can talk about the repression if you want, but then we’re also going to talk about the oppressive dictatorships we sponsored all over Central and South America for decades. Want to talk about “healthcare” in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile?

    Until the collapse of Soviet Union the fact is that Cuba had an internationally recognized and applauded universal health care system that trained some of the best Dr’s in the world, Dr’s that provided health and assistance all over the world. Cuba was also recognized for it’s near universal literacy rate at a time when some US States were (and continue) to struggle with basic literacy.

    You can complain about dictatorships all you want but the dictatorships the US was sponsoring were examples of abject oppression and terror far beyond that experience by Cubans.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/01/2020 - 12:49 pm.

      The fact that there have been many right-wing repressive regimes doesn’t excuse Cuba’s miserable human rights record. We should be condemning all repressive regimes. I was just responding to the ignorant claim about Cuba.

      And again, Cuba’s heath care has never been a model because it depends on repression. It depends on doctors working for less than a dollar a day. The doctors sent overseas are just a symptom of the Castros cruelty. Those doctors are forced to go and their relatives kept behind are threatened with punishment to keep those doctors from defecting.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/01/2020 - 02:28 pm.

        In point of fact Cuba’s health care system was recognized worldwide as a model system that provided universal and high quality care for it’s citizens. Yes, that was always embarrassing for the US, but it’s a fact nevertheless. You don’t get ignore facts just because you want to criticize the government, specially when your support far worse governments all over the planet… Shall we talk about East Timor, Apartheid South Africa, etc. etc. etc.

        I suppose we can create some kind of weird rationale that the Cuban people got a state of the art health system and universal literacy in exchange for their oppression if you want, but what did Guatemalan’s get in exchange for their oppression?

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/01/2020 - 04:43 pm.

          There was a time when Cuba had good health outcomes. Now, that is no longer the case since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today there are shortages of basic supplies, and while Cuba’s elite still get decent healthcare, most people do not.

          But even when Cuba did have a functional healthcare system, it was only possible under a repressive system. It was only possible in a country where dissent was banned. You can’t pay highly-trained people pennies without the threat of them and their relatives going to prison. No one with any clue about anything ever took Cuban healthcare seriously, because it wouldn’t work in a free society.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2020 - 12:50 pm.

    Actually, before we talk about the miracle dictatorships we installed all over Central and South America, you guys can go ahead and describe the wonderful health care, educations, and economy all the Cuban’s enjoyed under Batista. You remember Batista? The military dictator we supported before Castro’s revolution. He was the latest in the long line of US backed dictators that ran Cuba after the Spanish American War.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/01/2020 - 12:50 pm.

      Why is the choice only between types of repressive regimes?

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/01/2020 - 02:34 pm.

        No one is talking about making choices, we’re talking recognizing reality. Who do you see here advocating a repressive regime? Beside Trump and some Republicans maybe?

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/01/2020 - 04:44 pm.

          I think anyone praising Cuba is. Cuban healthcare is and always was possible because Cuba is a repressive regime.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/01/2020 - 09:03 am.

    Getting back to the actual article here, I must say that the nearly universal condemnation of this killing and the officers involved has been encouraging. The riots not so much, but for the first time almost everyone recognizes the horror of this killing and appreciates the outrage. Let’s hope this is the tipping point we needed to get control our of our police forces and their procedures.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/02/2020 - 01:45 pm.

      Everyone except Bob Kroll. Who has been elected to preside over the union here for quite some time…soooo….maybe not just him? I might hold out some hope of change if they kick that racist jerk out of not only his position at the union, but his job as a cop.

  12. Submitted by Ben Kjellberg on 06/02/2020 - 03:26 pm.

    ”The heart of the problem of both crime and police abuse in America is our tacitly accepted class structure separating the privileged from the poor, and along with it the systemic racism that society as a whole is not yet willing to face.” What does the changing of this look like in practical terms?

  13. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/29/2020 - 05:33 pm.

    I am glad to see that Professor Nimtz is writing. I had him
    as a professor in I think 1972 and met again say 20 years later on my DC commutes.

    I was at the U in the protest years and I am absolutely amazed and humiliated that our generation didn’t get this done. That’s it, we need to get it now.

    According to some one who has seen the tapes there was a very systematic organization and starting various fires and they were white and not from here.

  14. Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/28/2020 - 05:23 pm.

    Possible in a repressive dictatorship. It doesn’t have any application in a free society. The doctors who get sent overseas soon realize they are getting screwed, but are stuck because the government will punish the relatives still in Cuba.

    I don’t know about literacy, but again, the numbers come from the Cuban government and are probably suspect.

  15. Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/28/2020 - 06:00 pm.

    Huh. This is the second half of my original response to the comment above.

    Anyway, the U.S. has huge flaws, but the fact that progressives see that corrupt, repressive regime as something virtuous is simply bizarre.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/01/2020 - 02:32 pm.

    Paat, maybe you should look it up. Information about the Cuban health care system and history is easy to find. You just seem to be trying to tie this in into your hate on MFA.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2020 - 12:24 pm.

    Some people are more willing to recognize historical facts than others… and yes, that’s always been kind of bizarre.

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