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Minneapolis Burning: You’re On Their Side Until...?

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There were peaceful protests and there was looting. They’re not the same, but we lump them together out of convenience.

The burned out 3rd precinct in Minneapolis.
Jon Johnston

I went to Cup Foods in Minneapolis Saturday evening with Katie, my son’s fiancé. Cup Foods was where George Floyd died at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. I’m not going to recount that story - you can read it many other places. We went to join a protest. We were aware ahead of time where the more peaceful protests were held and where there was more likely to be trouble.

There were thousands of people, all peaceful, gathered in that one area. The crowd consisted of mostly very young people. I went because I didn’t feel like sitting on my ass, eating more food and getting fatter during a pandemic. I felt like other people at the protest needed to see the presence of at least one old white dude who wants to see things change. Most of all I wanted to see what was going on for myself. I wanted to talk directly to people who were protesting, ask them why they were, and what they thought about what they were doing and all the looting.

I talked to a fair number of people. I tried to get their perspective. I learned many phrases which previously I did not know the meaning of. There were many people stating that the charges against Derek Chauvin, the officer who murdered George Floyd, weren’t stiff enough. They wanted murder one, premeditated murder. It’s doubtful prosecutors will bring that charge as it is very difficult to prove. It will be difficult to charge the other three officers and the most they probably can charge them with is something akin to involuntary manslaughter. I doubt it will be enough.

Katie and I talked with a young woman whom I’ll just call “82 girl” because I didn’t get her name and she said she was born in 1982. She lived in Chicago for the younger part of her life and then moved to Minneapolis. She complained that she was frequently beaten up by the police when she was young. She told Katie that she was shot in her own house at one point. Her chief complaint was the police were never held accountable for their actions and it was clear that she was very frustrated by it. I asked her if she thought anything will change. She said she wanted justice to be done. I asked her what that meant and she said that she wanted the other three police officers arrested. She wanted the police to be held accountable for once.

I talked to a Russian journalist named Mikhail for a while. Talked with a news crew from the Canadian National News out of Alberta. There was a French newsman. There was at least one Washington Post photographer. There was plenty of media coverage.

There were people handing out bottled water and sandwiches. I wasn’t shy about grabbing grub and was happy to have it as I planned to be there past the 8 pm curfew and wasn’t sure how long I could hold out without some sustenance.

There was a single Army or National Guard helicopter that patrolled the skies around the Twin Cities and it would come over our crowd every 15 or 20 minutes. There was a drone that kept showing up over the crowd. The speakers claimed that it was from the FBI or the police, but it looked like something somebody would have spent $200 on from Best Buy. I don’t think it was doing any surveillance other than getting videos for social media.

After a couple hours an organizer invited people to join a march that was coming by. I was tired of standing so Katie and I joined and marched for a few miles turning down Lake Street toward the Minneapolis police third precinct which has been burned. There were many businesses along the way that had been burned. During the March we were told that the freeways had been closed, so if anybody was going to leave, they had to leave by 7 PM as it was clear the powers that be wanted to enforce the curfew.

We were also told that the National Guard had been given orders to shoot looters.

I’ve seen several posts on my Facebook timeline stating Minneapolis had the eyes of the world on it and failed to maintain support because of the looting. I’m calling bullshit. You expect me to believe you are incapable of understanding the difference between people who are protesting peacefully and people who want to cause trouble by looting and breaking the law? Or is it just a lazy excuse to dismiss these protests and condemn people who aren’t like you?

I’m not going to condone the looting, but I understand it, especially after talking to several people at the protest. They feel like nothing ever changes. I don’t believe most of us can fully understand the frustration that comes with being black in America. I’m not going to pretend I do. Senseless killings by police continue to happen. Harassment is ongoing.

If they protest by taking a knee during a national anthem, they’re called “disgraceful”. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James wear shirts that say “I can’t breathe” after Eric Garner’s death and James is told to “shut up and dribble”. Every time there’s a peaceful protest, there’s outrage.

Talking to people at the protest, you realize they see a different America than you. I’m not 100% sure, but I would say that this includes a lot of young people, not just people of color. If you cannot open your mind and at least listen, these protests will continue. So will the looting. It is this constant battle of “us vs them” even though we are all Americans. It is ingrained in our politics. It is ingrained in our police, apparently. Nothing will change until we change that attitude.

If you’re thinking that we should “stick to sports”, I’ll counter with when we are doing these articles about our best and most loved quarterbacks, wide receivers, linebackers, or linemen, that most of those guys are black. Are they only to be loved and cherished when they’re wearing a Husker uniform? Are they to be admonished when their opinion differs from yours? If they see an America that’s continually let them down, do you turn away because it’s not something you ever want to hear?

Our basketball coach points out that maybe we need to do a better job of listening.

Katie and I left the group we were with when it started to get dark. I was having a hard time keeping up and it was clear if we were going to turn back to our car it was time to go. We were told not to single ourselves out, that we needed to stay in groups, but we took our chances. We walked back down Lake Street. We ran into a woman who claimed there were 75,000 KKK members in town and were going to start shooting people. She said all the hotels in Fridley were filled with them. At one point we came upon a young couple who were sitting on a street corner bench. A car drove up and told them to get off the street as the KKK were coming. Rumors took flight like cures for the corona virus.

I only saw two policemen the entire time downtown. They were talking with a couple guys on Lake Street. The only people I saw with weapons were a couple of Hispanic guys standing on the side of Lake Street. One was carrying a scoped Remington 700 deer rifle. The other had a 12 gauge pump shotgun. Their group greeted us as we passed. I thought it was an interesting choice of weaponry.

We didn’t encounter any problems on our way back to the car. The interstates were closed so we took side streets until we could get on the freeway home.

45 minutes after we left, we were informed that our group ran into police cars that were blocking the road. The front of the group was hit with tear gas. Everyone ran. Funny how a group can be peacefully protesting until the police show up and everything turns to shit.

It’s funny how the corona virus dominated the headlines for weeks, but now has been supplanted by protesting, looting and rioting, the flashpoint of which was set off by one callous fucking shithead who didn’t give a damn about another human’s life.

I was around thousands of people at close quarters yesterday with lots of yelling going on. I wore a mask. It’s a homemade mask so not that protective. If I don’t get infected, I have to come to believe that all these lockdowns are full of shit. If I do, and people later say “the guy was an idiot for being around a huge group of protesters not doing anything about social distancing” - I’d just like to point out – I died sitting in an office in a chair. Considering all the stupidity all the stupid things I’ve done in my life, the irony of that has never left me.

Live your life. Just make damned sure you know what you’re living for.