On Friday, May 29, I had lunch with my friend Peter, an architect who has officed for decades in the restored Boyd warehouse on 4th Avenue one block south of Lake Street, filled with small businesses and nonprofits. We talked about the violent nights around us, and what matters and doesn’t in the long scheme of things. And we puzzled over who were the arsonists and vandals randomly destroying businesses and nonprofits in this most diverse of neighborhoods in the city? The Midtown Global Market, with 90 percent percent tenants of color, Gandhi Mahal restaurant, Migizi Communications, the Lake Street post office? A library?
That night the Boyd Building was torched. Here’s what happened. A car with four white men pulled up to the building late that night, smashed in the glass front door, raced through the building vandalizing every office, lit on fire two cars in the basement parking garage, which exploded, and ran out. The sprinkler system saved the building but not many tenants’ businesses. We know how this happened because a tenant happened to be across the street and witnessed the attack.
So who are these white arsonists and vandals who took advantage of our city’s righteous anger and grief to destroy us? And what is their agenda? There is no evidence they are leftist antifa activists, in spite of President Trump’s and Atty. General Barr’s and Fox News’ repeated assertions to the contrary.
The most intriguing of these white mercenaries is The Man with the Black Umbrella, captured by cellphone at the initial 3rd precinct demonstration coolly hammering windows of the AutoZone store, the match that lit the flame of what was at that moment an angry but peaceful protest. Clearly, he was not there to steal motor oil. Instead, he and his cohorts acted as the white tip on the match that burned our city. They were few but acted as accelerants — they brought Molotov cocktails and not only used them but handed them out, plus gasoline and other bombs, so our police and fire departments were totally overwhelmed and could not respond as businesses were robbed and burned, including random sites on the north side. This was not because of righteous anger for the tragedy of George Floyd, but a cool calculation to create maximum mayhem.
So now our city wakes up to a half a billion-dollar bill in damages, and the livelihoods of many Minnesotans of all colors destroyed, possibly forever, much of the destruction centered in one the most racially diverse and dynamic areas of the city.
There will be much-needed change in the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department. And much change, we have a right to expect, in the terrible racial dynamic of parts of our city and country. But the accounting must include these violent mercenaries. Because they did not come here to address a problem, but to create one. Who were they? They exploited our grief, and cost the heart and soul of this city a lot.
James P. Lenfestey of Minneapolis is a poet and a former editorial writer for the Star Tribune covering education, energy and the environment.
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