Mistrust of Police Stir Unrest in Minneapolis
By AMY FORLITI and JEFF BAENEN
Tom Stellar, a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, looks at broken windows while cleaning up damage outside Nordstrom Rack in Minneapolis on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. An emergency curfew expired and downtown Minneapolis was calm Thursday morning after a night of unrest that broke out following what authorities said was misinformation about the suicide of a Black homicide suspect. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After a Black man fatally shot himself on a pedestrian plaza in downtown Minneapolis, rumors of another police shooting in the city still reeling from the death of George Floyd began spreading quickly on social media, sending concerned residents and activists to the area — many of them anxious and some of them misinformed.
Tensions and anger have been running high in Minneapolis since Floyd’s May 25 death, and some activists say community members are mobilizing more quickly as incidents occur — refusing to wait for explanations from a city police department they don’t trust. But others say the unrest that unfolded Wednesday — which damaged multiple business and resulted in more than 130 arrests — had nothing to do with anger, but was due to opportunists intent on committing crimes.
“I just think that things have reached a boiling point and people are fed up,” said community activist Nekima Levy Armstrong. “Now we’re at a breaking point where there is no tolerance for even a hint of police abuse or police murder.”
Emotions have remained raw over the death of Floyd, a handcuffed Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Floyd’s death sparked protests worldwide, including several nights of violence in Minneapolis. Demonstrators also gathered in Minneapolis this week to protest after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot multiple times by police in Wisconsin on Sunday, leaving him paralyzed.
Wednesday’s unrest began after a man who was suspected in a homicide shot himself in a retail area as police were closing in. Police released surveillance video within 90 minutes that confirmed the police account of a suicide, as Police Chief Medaria Arradondo tried to dispel rumors circulating on social media.
Levy Armstrong said she went to the scene and showed the video to demonstrators, and some of them left. But she said she understands why some people would think the police were to blame, saying: “There’s no reason to trust the Minneapolis police, based on their years of egregious and abusive conduct.”
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Floyd’s death has changed the way people respond to police incidents. “I think as soon as something like this happens, you are going to see people immediately hit the streets upset.”
“I think this is the new norm and we just have to create better communication,” he said. “We are in a different time when people are more concerned. People are not just walking by police misconduct anymore.”
Businesses were burglarized during the unrest and authorities said two officers were injured. The Fire Department responded to four fires at area businesses.
Mayor Jacob Frey and the chief said future violence would not be tolerated, as workers at various businesses boarded up windows and swept broken glass from the sidewalk. Members of the National Guard were activated to help and Frey set another curfew for Thursday night, when officers made more than 30 arrests in the first hour after the curfew but the protests remained mostly peaceful.
Tanzil Sallahudiin, 22, a Black man from Minneapolis, who was taking photos downtown, said it was sad to see buildings broken into because some people couldn’t get their facts straight.
“A lot of people are just tired, pretty much, tired of the same stuff. And automatically people are guessing that the police killed him, because that’s what we’re used to seeing, I guess. A lot of people are just programmed that way,” he said, adding that after people see a man die in the street, “they automatically think it’s the police.”
Misinformation has fueled unrest elsewhere too. Earlier this month, hundreds of people streamed into downtown Chicago after a video circulating on Facebook falsely claimed that Chicago police had shot and killed a 15-year-old boy. Vandals smashed the windows of dozens of businesses and made off with merchandise and cash machines.
But there was no teenage boy shot and killed by police. Police had shot and wounded a 20-year-old man they say had fired at them. Police Superintendent David Brown said the shooting of the man prompted a social media post urging people to form a car caravan and head to Chicago’s business and shopping district. Police made over 100 arrests, and 13 officers were hurt.
Minneapolis City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, a leader of the effort to overhaul the police force following Floyd’s death, called for understanding about why the violence broke out.
“MPD did not kill him, but people assuming they did is rooted in a steep distrust,” he tweeted. “That distrust is our failure to own. Seeing windows broken and items stolen can be beyond frustrating, especially when all that rage was sparked (this time) by misinformation. But so often our policing institutions have themselves been the source of misinformation. We forfeited our goodwill and this is the ugly cost.”
Longtime peace activist KG Wilson also went to the scene after he heard someone had been killed. He learned after arriving that it was a suicide, but said members of the crowd wouldn’t listen to him — or didn’t care. Some insisted the man was shot by police, while others just seized on the opportunity to create chaos.
“I’m down there trying to tell this angry mob of people who are ranting and raging, using profanities and throwing bottles at police … ‘Just calm down, just stay peaceful,’” Wilson said. But, he said, even after it was clear that the incident was not a police shooting, a group of “opportunists” used the confusion to commit crimes.
“They were wrong last night. They were completely, 100% wrong. There is no, ‘I was mad about something else,’” Wilson said. “You are going to be held accountable for this.”