Yesterday, August 26th, police approached a man in downtown Minneapolis who they suspected of killing someone in a parking garage nearly a mile away. Rapidly closing in on his position from all sides with guns already drawn, the police set the terms for a frantic and chaotic environment on what would otherwise be a peaceful, dull Wednesday night in the city. Then, before ever making it to the man in question, they watched as he pulled out a gun and took his own life.
A crowd quickly started to form as more and more people were drawn in by the ballooning number of squad cars now flying from every corner of the city onto the scene. As should have been anticipated by law enforcement, this was paired with a great deal of confused commotion, and passersby painted conflicting pictures of what happened. Some had spread the news that the man indeed killed himself while others claimed to have seen cops shoot him.
But rather than be sensitive to and understanding of the intense feelings of anger, grief, and injustice that have tarnished police-community relations in this city since the death of George Floyd (and of course extending long before that), officers made no attempt to de-escalate the situation. They simply cordoned off a perimeter around the body and left the people gathered to speculate.
Local peacekeepers quickly arrived and attempted to do the job of the police for them. Their efforts, however, were abruptly curtailed as cops indiscriminately shot bouts of tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd. Shortly after that, the police declared the gathering an ‘unlawful assembly’ and ordered everyone to disperse.
Now, I ask you to try and consider how this situation was seen from the perspective of those who gathered last night, particularly Black folks. Two days after Jacob Blake was shot seven times by police in Kenosha, a little over three months after the murder of George Floyd, you show up downtown and immediately see cops doing what they have always done to ‘address tension’ following police shootings: further agitate the public.
At this point, the police have already failed in their duty to keep the peace. It doesn’t really matter whether the correct story gets out, whether the crowd finds out that police were not involved in this particular death. The image of police terror is already screaming in your face from every direction. In turn, it resurrects intense feelings of rage and anger which had been there your whole life, had only just recently subsided, and only then just barely.
You see cops pepper spraying Black protesters point blank in the eyes and you realize it’s the same thing happening again. You realize it’s the same old story: cops are not here to protect you, they are here to terrorize you because you’re Black. You are criminalized on sight.
Add to this the fact that all of this is going down on Nicollet Mall, the crown jewel of downtown Minneapolis with all its shops and restaurants and gaudy architecture. This had never, of course, been a place for you — squad cars constant patrol that area to harass Black kids — but now you are here, and cops are already declaring you unlawful.
You see all this happening, and you are who you are and you are where you are, and so what else could you possibly surmise than “Fuck This”? You know this space, downtown Minneapolis, was organized to exclude you from it, to remove you from sight, you know that is why the police presence is always so ubiquitous there —so how could you not loot the Target downtown where the employees used to follow you around? How could you not break those glass windows at Bruegger’s Bagels out of which white people in suits always stared at you with such contempt and suspicion? How could you not do what is necessary to be seen and heard?
One can already see comments all across social media about how the lootings were somehow unrelated to decades of racist policing in this city, simply because the event they immediately followed was not a police shooting.Take alt-right and InfoWars darling Paul Joseph Watson as but one example of this message:
I can guarantee we will see more and more of this narrative in the upcoming weeks, with the intention of delegitimizing looting as a genuine political act. But it is an incredibly myopic and naive argument to be making. Unlike most news and media pundits, protesters are capable of memory retention spanning longer than 24 hours.
The lootings were not premised on a ‘misunderstanding.’ They were a response to decades of racist and violent policing in this city. They were a search for justice for Jamar Clark, Philando Castille, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others who have been killed or have had their lives destroyed by the Minneapolis police.
Looting is a communicative, political act. It is not the responsibility of protesters but the public and the politicians to start listening.