After a request from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Gov. Tim Walz will mobilize the National Guard for the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. I ask Frey to rescind his request to the governor for another occupation of our city. I also ask the governor to reconsider and cancel the deployment.
The residents of Minneapolis have the right to petition their government and otherwise express their constitutional rights to speech and assembly. The occupation by the Guard will only add to the increased militarism by the Minneapolis Police, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department and Minnesota state police forces. This occupation will be undoubtedly provocative and have a negative effect on the quality of life and rights of our residents.
While the Guard was deployed last May, those of us who live and work in Minneapolis received little benefit, but great harm to our city. We experienced residents shot by rubber bullets and marking rounds while simply standing on their own front porches. We saw the arrest of law-abiding residents and targeting of reporters – for which there’s now a lawsuit. The tank-like vehicles, troop carriers, Humvees and SUVs ridden up and down our streets were supposedly to discourage agitators, but rather instilled fear in community members.
Conversely, when the National Guard was deployed last May I saw no evidence that the troops actually helped our residents. We saw a rounding up of peaceful protesters who had, just minutes prior, survived a semi truck barreling through their demonstration. It’s important to point out that this truck was not stopped by the National Guard and State Patrol, and easily could’ve been thus allowed to threaten residents as a 50-ton battering ram. National Guard were mere blocks away from fires on 31st Street, and did nothing. The post office, the Wells Fargo Bank, Migizi Communications, and hundreds of additional small businesses and business centers were burned while the National Guard was deployed.
It was community members, not the National Guard, who were on the frontlines of safety. Mutual aid groups set up tents and tables to provide food and water, and to distribute flashlights and generators when power was cut to “riot” areas. Neighbors met each other, some for the first time, to organize block patrols and make sure everyone had someone to call when they needed help. Street medics, myself among them, bandaged wounds, and offered physical and emotional support to those under duress. Our grief was met with humanity, not helicopters and humvees.
The last deployment cost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars – labor and money that easily should be spent elsewhere. Money and resources should be deployed to assist those who have been driven to poverty by the pandemic and subsequent economic depression. Hunger is rampant in our city, especially among children. We have a growing unsheltered population. Our struggling small businesses need assistance. Our money needs to be spent on the residents of Minneapolis, not armed crowd control.
Let’s not forget our current law enforcement system is why Frey and Walz are wrongly responding with even more law enforcement. It is time for accountability for Derek Chauvin and the Minneapolis Police Department. It is past time for a safe Minneapolis. To get there, we need stable housing, inclusive mental health care, accessible food, and livable wages. In order to achieve peace, we need justice. We need to show the people of Minneapolis that their voices are heard, and their grief is shared. We need healing, not fear. An armed military occupation of our city while we await Chauvin’s fate is not the answer.
Sheila Nezhad is a community organizer and candidate for mayor of Minneapolis. She lives in the Central neighborhood.
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