Minneapolis police and law enforcement from around the state are preparing to provide security during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who faces second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges for the death of George Floyd. City leaders don’t want to be caught flat-footed if the unrest of last summer is rekindled when trial proceedings begin March 8.
Neither do some Minneapolis residents. As the trial nears, people throughout the city are reviving safety networks that sprang up shortly after Floyd’s death, with some planning to arm themselves in preparation for potential further unrest — even as Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the city’s security plan makes such efforts unnecessary.
“I would say that the preparation put in place is designed to prevent that need,” said Frey during a press conference last week.
Various efforts across neighborhoods
As unrest following the killing of Floyd by police took hold across the city last summer, residents in neighborhoods across the city began standing guard outside their homes and blocks. Soon, those neighbors banded together to form networks for safety and solidarity.
The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association, for example, formed a solidarity network that at one point had more than 800 residents connected via the messaging platform Discord. The neighborhood association also formed Neighbors Helping Neighbors in March, a mutual aid group that makes check-in phone calls to residents and small businesses and connects them with resources. The group even makes grocery runs.
“This network also helped us mobilize resources and volunteers for folks in various states of need throughout the summer,” said LHENA executive director Paul Shanafelt. “It’s since gone somewhat quiet relative to the summer months, but we anticipate more activity in the coming weeks.”
Other neighborhoods are also organizing various efforts in the run-up to the trial. Alicia Smith, executive director of the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, said people in the area are encouraged to meet their neighbors on each side and start text chains on each block. The CNO also started walking groups who patrol Corcoran after dark and in the early morning.
The group has also partnered with Nonviolent Peaceforce, a Geneva, Switzerland-based peacekeeping organization, to offer all Minneapolis residents training sessions for tactical safety and nonviolent intervention.
Boards for other neighborhood associations are also discussing providing resources as the trial begins. The Legal Rights Center, a nonprofit law firm in Minneapolis, is holding forums for residents to ask questions and will schedule “restorative circles” aimed at youth but made available for anyone who wants to talk through community trauma from Floyd’s death or confusion around the trial.
“During the summer, there was rage and outrage, but you didn’t see a lot of healing, a lot of understanding,” said Andrew Gordon, the Legal Rights Center’s deputy director for community legal services. “Other than abolishing police, we didn’t talk about what it meant for the community to reckon with what they saw. The trial presents another opportunity to sit down and really process and reckon with what happened.”
David Rubedor, director of Minneapolis’ Neighborhood and Community Relations department, said at a press conference last week that the city has put together information for neighborhood associations to share with residents so they understand who to call — 911, 311, or other city departments — in different situations during the trial.
Some Minneapolis City Council members are also getting involved in community safety efforts. “There was a gap in protection during the riots last summer, so I had to organize over 100 everyday Northsiders to protect our own community,” Council Member Phillipe Cunningham said in a statement. “My focus is making sure that a protection gap doesn’t exist again during this potentially turbulent time ahead.”
Council President Lisa Bender said she spoke with staff from neighborhood associations in her Ward 10 last week to talk about safety and solidarity networks. The main concern expressed in the meeting was the need for the city to stay in constant contact and address rumors so that people don’t overreact out of fear. During one night of unrest last summer, ward residents slashed the tires on the car with no license plates, believing it belonged to someone who did not want to be traced, Bender said. Later, they found out it belonged to someone who had recently moved to the state and was getting new license plates.
The CNO’s Smith is also concerned about the possibility of people overreacting — and is also emphasizing communication. She has been in continued contact with a group of residents who like to touch base whenever there may be cause for unrest. The group, which is a loosely tied smattering of 15 residents or so from the Corcoran, Longfellow and Powderhorn neighborhoods, is made up of mostly white homeowners who arm themselves with guns when they hear of potential trouble.
“One of the things we have to do aggressively is really preparing neighbors on how you stay safe without turning into a group of vigilantes — and thereby perpetuating the same trauma on Black and brown people you say you protest,” said Smith. “As a Black woman, when I see you, even though I know you, what I instantly think of is the Klan.”
Smith said she tells people that it’s imperative that they don’t confront people, and that she asks them to constantly identify themselves while they are out. If they see an issue, Smith advises anyone involved to contact unarmed neighbors who can attempt to gauge the situation, while the armed patrol stands at a distance for back-up.
Bender echoed some of the concerns raised by Smith: “We don’t want neighborhood safety networks to replicate any of the issues of racism we see in other institutions,” she said, noting that safety networks from her Ward 10 last summer worked to be mindful of this. “They are being intentional, ‘What’s our purpose, what kind of language are we using, who do we find suspicious?’”
But the fear of an overreaction isn’t just about residents. Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said he’s now concerned with the city’s security plan, which he said “sends a message of fear” and might give people the impression that the city has already determined the outcome of the case.
Along with fences and barricades around buildings like the Hennepin County Government Center and various Minneapolis police precincts, the city will host 1,100 local and outstate law enforcement officers and 2,000 National Guard members.
Ellison compared that plan to Chicago’s security plan for the 2018 trial of officer Jason Van Dyke for the killing of Laquan McDonald. When responding to calls about protesters, Chicago police were instructed to wear regular uniforms and follow protests, allowing them to peacefully resume. Chicago officials said police were only to be deployed in riot gear if the need became apparent.
“We’re already taking the opposite approach,” said Ellison. “We’re showing up ready for war.”