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Jun 12, 20

The World Is Ours: The Minneapolis Uprising in Five Acts

The following is a collective account from locals regarding the uprising in Minneapolis, which began on Tuesday, May 26th, one day after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. It covers much of what went down in the first five days, but given the scope of the uprising, should not be considered a complete overview. It is also meant only as a report of what happened in the streets, rather than analyzing the context, historical background, tactics, implications, etc. of the uprising. At the bottom, a list of writings is included which address such topics better.

Cover photo via @splitcoco with permission

ACT I

Tuesday, May 26th 2020

A thunderstorm was brewing.

It was hot and humid on a Tuesday afternoon in Minneapolis. The COVID-19 pandemic had defined daily life for over two months. A horrific video of a police officer murdering George Floyd the night before was spreading rapidly across the internet. A protest was called for 5pm, with rain predicted to follow shortly. There was no telling what was going to happen that evening.

At 5 o’clock, thousands were already assembled at the intersection of 38th and Chicago where George Floyd had been killed the day before. The crowd stretched for blocks in every direction, with smaller groups spread outward around a larger radius. Quickly, groups began to break off to march to the Minneapolis Police 3rd precinct.

There were two large marches, one that went northbound on Chicago Ave and another that traveled east on 38th. For the crowd traveling down 38th, we made a turn onto Hiawatha filling all the street lanes. At a passing intersection along Hiawatha, two police cars pulled up next to the massive crowd. Quickly, some folks began throwing rocks and yelling before the crowd moved on to the precinct. A similar scene was playing out on the other march that went up Chicago Ave as well when police cars couldn’t escape the route of march in time.

I was in a smaller group that marched to the 3rd precinct a bit later, which departed not much later than the other ones. Over the two and a half mile walk, people began to spray paint slogans against the police and in memory of George Floyd and drag things into the street to act as barricades to protect us from rush hour traffic. At this point, the police were nowhere to be seen.

Before long, this group joined the large crowd that had formed around the 3rd precinct. When I arrived, banging could already be heard as the first floor windows were shattered, and tags had begun being written around the building. “Organizers” stood with their backs to the police and the precinct, screaming against all evidence that this was a peaceful protest. There was a standoff in an alleyway behind the precinct between three people holding megaphones, trying to defend a squad car from destruction, and a small crowd that smashed it relentlessly, as the megaphones screamed that this wasn’t helping. This small conflict was quickly made irrelevant as the crowd finally succeeded in dismantling a segment of fence protecting dozens of squad cars and police officer’s personal vehicles. Cheers went up as people turned their attention to smashing every window in that lot. People’s rage at the police knew no bounds.

Around 8pm, a small group of protesters in safety vests began yelling that the protest was over and that people should go home. This was met largely with indifference, although a few people shouted back that no one gets to decide when the protest is over.

Upon the departure of these supposed organizers, police moved in with tear gas and flash bangs. They attempted to push the crowds out of their parking lot and out of the street in front of the precinct. However, the geography of the immediate landscape basically rendered their attempts at dispersal futile. It was not a tight city block, it was a boulevard with an immense parking lot to the north, and an open hillside to the west. Everyone had ample space to retreat, recover from the tear gas, and then move forward again. Rocks that were taken from the nearby train crossing, alongside water bottles people had been drinking from, were thrown at the police lines to push them back. The police continued to use tear gas in large quantities, but were never able to hold any territory beyond their precinct.

Across the street to the north of the precinct, shopping carts are piled into and around a bus stop enclosure to provide cover. The police, holed up in their castle, were unable to block off incoming traffic and people warn drivers about tear gas ahead. At one point a semi-truck stops directly in front of the shopping cart barricade, providing the perfect cover from police munitions. Meanwhile, the crowd spread out in every direction.

These clashes continued long into the night. A liquor store, east across the street from the precinct, was broken into and looted. The police were able to send a team across the street to secure the building, but were forced to retreat eventually and looting began again. Only after 1am did crowds thin enough for the police to make a second attempt at securing the liquor store. In the area beyond, the police had no control whatsoever.

ACT II

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

Crowds reappeared the next day in front of the 3rd precinct, which by now had been fortified with concrete barricades topped with large metal fences. Police officers were stationed on the roof, sporadically shooting marker rounds—rubber bullets coated in a brightly colored chalk. In the early evening before the sun even set, bricks began flying as the clashes heated up—some breaking what few windows remained intact on the precinct, while others aimed at the officers themselves. The cops unleashed a hail of marker rounds, which on multiple occasions hit people in the head. Fellow protesters used their bodies and umbrellas to shield those providing first aid, as others continued to gather rocks to fight back with.

North of the precinct, another massive barricade of shopping carts was assembled to prevent the police from advancing and providing cover to those throwing objects at officers. Police on the ground instead moved into the street east of the precinct, but despite fewer barricade materials in that direction, the crowd was able to hold the street fairly easily, and before long the police were forced to retreat back to the precinct itself. Spray paint cans were freely handed out and the already vibrant walls were adorned with further slogans. At the same time, the Auto Zone (renamed by graffiti as “Autonomous Zone”) began to get looted, before people re-entered the liquor store and then the larger stores around the area—Target, Cub Foods, and Aldi. The sun was still shining in the sky as people ran in and out of these stores, pushing carts full of looted items out into the crowd or into the nearby neighborhoods. Some grabbed boxes of food that they set out for others to eat and refuel next to graffiti that read “free shit for everyone.” Cars are constantly driving by, doing burnouts or loading up at the Target. Passengers hang out the windows to get a better view of their surroundings and shout “Fuck 12!” to cheers from the crowd.

Photo credit to @splitcoco on Twitter, used with permission.

In the clashes that continued, the police were unable to hold much of the street for very long. They would shoot tear gas and marker rounds, forcing people to retreat, only for them to return moments later. So while the front lines of the clashes rarely moved back—only later in the night when the police attempted to escort firetrucks to the Auto Zone which had been set on fire did they actually reclaim any significant amount of territory—whenever the crowd retreated, people were dispersed further down the streets away from the precinct. These crowds stretched out, and stores further and further from the epicenter of the 3rd precinct began getting looted.

I saw youths of color in crews streaming down Lake Street. These crews were out to have a good fucking time, and there wasn’t a cop in sight past 31st street. Here someone was beating the windows out of cars at the dealership, pleading “just one more” as his friend urged him to move on, while down the street a car rolled up to collect the bucket loads of change that had been freed from the TCF Bank coin counting machine. People streamed into Walgreens and excitedly emerged back onto Lake Street with their arms full. A confused person drove into the McDonald’s parking lot and then tried to order from the drive thru, even though the trash can out front was on fire and the front windows had been smashed.

A late middle aged white woman emerged and pleaded “I am begging you to please stop destroying my neighborhood. I live here.”

I saw some gatherings of older folks, talking and laughing while they watched the chaos.

Word goes around that the large apartment complex that was being built across the street from the Target has started to burn. People gather in groups on the edge of the Target parking lot to watch the six story tall inferno, sharing looted beer and cigarettes with everyone. By the end of the night, stores in several neighborhoods were getting hit, especially as people began using cars to assist in sporadic smash-n-grabs in wealthier areas of the city.

ACT III

Thursday, May 28th 2020

It was well before noon when spontaneous looting began at the Super Target across the river in Saint Paul. This spread around the Midway neighborhood until the police responded when clashes broke out, which would remain steady for much of the day. Upon hearing the news I decided to grab some water from a gas station (which would no longer exist by nightfall) and bring it to the people outside of Target. I don’t even make it that far before I see crowds of hundreds of people joyful and exuberant while parading in broad daylight with looted goods from the Max-It Pawn shop and Sports Dome store. “Here’s some water for tear gas, you’re gonna need it” I cry out, to approving smiles and laughs as people reach out their hands to grab a water bottle from me. The police are nowhere to be seen.

I hear the distant explosions of police munitions outside the Super Target parking lot. This Target in the Midway neighborhood is located right next to the Western headquarters of the St. Paul police department and is also the 2nd most profitable store in the entire Target corporation nationwide. Today, it’s a battleground. Saplings are uprooted from the ground and used as battering rams against police cruisers. Rocks in the parking lot originally used for landscaping are quickly turned to projectiles. Lil Boosie’s “Fuck the Police” plays intermittently above the din of people shouting at police, laughing while sharing looted food and liquor with each other, the screeching of tires as people do burnouts in the liberated parking lots of nearby businesses, and the hilariously pathetic robotic commands to disperse coming from the police loudspeakers. Just like the 3rd Precinct in Minneapolis, the St. Paul police are unable to control the territory immediately surrounding their headquarters without leaving it vulnerable to attack from the increasingly bold crowd. That attitude didn’t change with nightfall either.

As darkness falls across St. Paul, SPPD strike teams move in to control hotspots where looting and arson was occurring only to be immediately pushed back by throngs of people throwing rocks and bottles and anything that could be picked up and thrown. Dumpsters are utilized as barricades and pushed into the streets behind us while we retreat into the quiet residential streets. This neighborhood was very well suited for the sort of “hit and run” rudimentary urban guerrilla warfare that was emerging tonight. While Snelling & University and Hamline & University were busy intersections with many businesses and strip malls up and down the main roads, the surrounding side streets were purely single family homes dotted with a few apartment complexes here and there. Alleyways and backyards provided ample space to hide from the police, regroup, and go out on the offensive once more. These clashes would continue throughout the night.

Crowds also remained determined around the 3rd precinct in Minneapolis. People collaborated to build elaborate barricades from anything and everything found around the area. Plywood from the nearby construction site, shopping carts, cart return terminals, stolen segments of the police’s own fencing, and much more went up and began to provide cover behind which demonstrators gathered tools and assembled makeshift incendiary devices. Tables distributing food and water were set up close to the barricade, and people began to more confidently occupy the space. Around five pm, the police heavily tear gassed the area, and advanced to pull down the system of barricades. They pulled the majority into their own building, which was noted by many, and whispers started going around that they would definitely not be able to attempt the maneuver again.

During this time, looting and burning broke out with more intensity throughout the city. Elaborate sprinkler systems are what saved the larger stores like Aldi and Target from being completely torched the night before, but instead they flooded as the looting persisted throughout the day. Tons of food and aid supplies were gathered from stores and distributed outside for free. Throughout the night, many of the stores that had been looted the night before were now set on fire—many burned to the ground. The large parking lot across from the 3rd precinct had become a riotous party. A bonfire raged, as cars packed with people arrived and circled the lot. The shell of a torched vehicle was at the conflagration’s center; people tossed a burnt, looted beach ball back and forth across the flames. The collective din included cheers & conversation, the now non-stop blaring of sirens and security alarms, and live music coming from the tents used for distribution of supplies and respite from the sun.

Later into the night as the sun descended, the crowd began to get more and more daring. Tear gas was quickly thrown back or extinguished using tactics from the streets of Chile and Hong Kong. People moved between complicated setups of protective barricades, taking the edge off of the threat of less-lethal rounds. Whispers began to spread through the crowd that the cops would soon run out of rounds and tear gas. The intervals between the volleys definitely seemed to be increasing, even as the crowd grew more aggressive. People began throwing their fireworks directly at the police. Molotov cocktails were assembled by groups of strangers ducked behind barricades, and it slowly dawned on the crowd there was a very real possibility of overrunning this precinct, something that had seemed like a pipe dream on Tuesday night.

As the pressure increased on the police, yells went up that they had run out of tear gas, and it suddenly seemed obvious that they had not launched any for at least an hour. At 10 o’clock, joyful screams rang out as the police threw one last tear gas canister (which was quickly diffused) and formed a caravan of vehicles that tore through the lot fence, running for their lives as they were pursued, pelted with rocks and blinded by lasers. A barricade quickly went up to protect against their return, and a trashcan full of rocks was dumped into the street in front of it. Within minutes of their retreat, the great floodlights in the lot that had been illuminating and blinding the crowd all night began to fall and crash one by one, and we could see the doors to the precinct. The shattered floodlights and the barricade were ablaze within minutes. Immediately, hundreds rushed and disassembled the fence to the lot. Dozens of people rushed into the side door of the precinct, the intent was clear: to level this place. I witnessed people running out the door carrying pairs of boots, flashlights, and batons. People split into groups inside the precinct and began setting fires everywhere they could; with none significantly taking hold. Once the inside of the building had been thoroughly ransacked, the crowd retreated to celebrate with each other in front of the precinct as the fire gradually consumed the front facade of the building. Fireworks filled the sky above the precinct for hours as it burned, abandoned.

Later on, USPS vans were stolen and used to make a bonfire in front of the precinct, and on the peripheral streets large barricades were erected. All sorts of debris, metal fences, former bus shelters, planters, and more were assembled into barricades as bricks were stockpiled to defend from the suspected police counterattack. This counter attack came by daybreak, as State Patrol and National Guard arrived to reinforce the Minneapolis Police and reclaim a lot of the area around the 3rd precinct. The whir of Blackhawk helicopters in the sky became a constant reminder of this militarized presence, their constant surveillance and patrol of the streets.

ACT IV

Friday, May 29th 2020

With the area around the 3rd precinct thoroughly locked down by the State, the revolt was forced to either find a new target, or fade away. Given the collective intelligence rapidly emerging in the streets, it is no surprise that the next evening crowds marches past the police line down Lake street and makes their way to the 5th precinct, a couple of miles west from the 3rd.

Everything in the area was already boarded up, some stores likely hit in the previous nights of looting, others as a preventative measure. Smaller marches to Uptown wove in and out of the larger mass of people spread out from the intersection in front of the police station, expanding the territory freed from the illusion of police control. For a while, the relatively festive atmosphere continued from the previous nights. The Wells Fargo across the street from the 5th precinct was having its ATMs ripped apart while police stationed on the roof of their precinct dodged volleys of rocks and the glare of lasers. The energy of the crowd was joyful. I helped hand out water and first aid to the people who needed it with a group of medics who were monitoring the situation across the street. Graffiti writers were decorating the area with tags against the police, in memory of George Floyd, or their own monikers. As soon as the interior of the Wells Fargo was breached, it was set on fire, joining a number of other businesses on Nicollet, several of which had plumes of smoke rising from within.

After 11pm, the police began advancing on the crowd, retaking the street in front of the 5th precinct. They then began pushing the crowd north along Nicollet Ave towards the K-Mart which was being emptied of its contents this entire time. Vehicles ripped along the corridor in front of the large lot, which had long-ago been dug up for construction. People moved quickly to help a van full of medics displaced by the police; its wheels spinning wildly in the loose sand and gravel. Quickly, large barricades were being assembled on the street to prevent police incursions. Crowds of strangers came together to move sections of fencing, while a fire within a nearby backhoe raged and threatened a large, diesel-fueled explosion. Rocks and smashed pavers were collected in piles for throwing. It became nearly impossible to see how far the police were advancing thanks to the thick smoke of so many fires, combined with the tear gas that had been deployed. A crowd of hundreds, pushed into the expansive Kmart parking lot, still proved too massive and unruly to fall prey to the mass arrests threatened by the State.

ACT V

Saturday, May 30th 2020

With the reinforcements of other law enforcement agencies and the National Guard, the implementation of a curfew, in addition to the growing citizen reaction towards the unruly elements in the streets, the police were able to more efficiently crackdown on the protests beginning on Saturday.

It was the second night with the 8pm curfew in place, and crowds continued to gather near the 5th precinct. Not wasting any time police began to heavily tear gas the crowd after the curfew went into effect, and a lot of the crowd was easily dispersed. People began escaping into the streets parallel to the precinct, while others marched back down Lake Street where police moved to make mass arrests. Police and National Guard continued to patrol the area as the threat of arrest for being out past curfew lingers. I witnessed a few arrests as well as police ordering people to get off their lawns and into their houses. Some are even shot by the police with rubber bullets from being on their porch after curfew.

Epilogue

Back at 38th and Chicago (renamed George Floyd Square), the vigil has been maintained for the duration of this uprising and up to the present. The streets continue to be blocked off with barricades, murals adorn the walls, and music is almost always playing. Free meals are cooked, while supplies and groceries are likewise distributed freely. A stage has been set up for speakers to address the crowds that congregate there, which happens on a daily basis. Dance parties are also a nightly occurrence. Oftentimes, the speakers talk of God, or voting out the bad politicians, or coming together for peace. Nevertheless, the zone at George Floyd Square offers us the smallest glimpse of a different way of being together in the city. It remains mostly undisturbed by the police, with the tacit assurance that no matter how much those in the zone speak of peace, police incursion will mean war.

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