On April 16, 2021, residents of Minneapolis, Minnesota were shocked to find convoys of tanks rolling into their town, as well as lines of National Guard soldiers standing in front of boarded-up shops and offices. This military presence, which was called upon by local and state officials in anticipation of violence nearing the verdict for the trial of Derek Chauvin, was heightened even further after the police killing of Daunte Wright. As soldiers are mustered along the streets, it has sent a message to the populace of Minneapolis that, according to the actions of local and state officials that govern their community, protecting private property is more important than allowing the free exercise of the right to assembly.
Minneapolis is not the first city to mobilize its defense forces against its own citizens to contain protests. While police brutality has remained a heavily vocalized issue over the past four years, tensions were inflamed after the death of George Floyd in the Summer of 2020, invigorating nationwide protests that resulted in violence and destruction. In numerous cases, such as a protest in Oakland, protests started peacefully and ended in direct violent clashes with law enforcement, as the police instigated violence against protesters first. In other cases, cities have imposed curfews on protesters in order to compel them to disperse, but deliberately with insufficient time for them to actually leave on time, such as in Chicago where a curfew was announced 20 minutes before it came into effect, resulting in the arrest of protesters who could not physically comply with the curfew. As a whole, the United States has shown strikingly similar patterns of repression against protesters, particularly those motivated by racial justice for African Americans who are disproportionately targeted by police violence.
On April 20, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd last year. But nonetheless, the military presence in Minneapolis is an alarming reminder that, even if individual officers can be held accountable and punished for their crimes, the state continues to produce an environment which subjects its citizens to potentially lethal altercations with the state, which was evident as on April 11, only about 10 miles away from where the Chauvin trial was actively taking place, 20-year old Daunte Wright was killed by police at a traffic stop. State officials, like Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz, have justified the military presence due to people “taking advantage” of community grief and peaceful protest “to create chaos and damage.” Due to fears of looting and violent protest, the stationing of the National Guard is purported to ensure the safety of citizens and the property of the city. But while reassuring some people, the military presence has instilled fear and resentment in others, especially Black residents who have already lost a degree of trust in the Minneapolis law enforcement following the death of Floyd and Wright.
The United States has had a long, but often unspoken history of suppressing protest. While the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s is heralded as a successful feat of non-violent resistance, many forget the perfectly compliant police officers who attacked Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers with fire hoses and dogs at the behest of public officials in Birmingham. Similarly, before the violent clashes with police led by primarily Black trans women which became known as the Stonewall Movement, law enforcement in New York City regularly raided bars and nightclubs, filling vans of people arrested for wearing non-gender-conforming clothes. While American citizens enjoy rights that have been fought for by generations of activists petitioning the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, gender equality, and humane working conditions, at the other end of these conflicts have often been members of law enforcement, sworn to uphold order and often called upon to put down dissent. In recent times, law enforcement has used fear tactics to intimidate protesters, such as in Portland, Oregon where activists were abducted by armed federal agents in unmarked vehicles.
In Minneapolis, the police and National Guard have been used to dissuade protest and hinder any attempt at freely expressing the right to assembly, despite assurances from Governor Walz that they are only necessary to prevent destruction from escalated protest. The heightened military presence in Minneapolis comes several months after calls for police abolition were heeded by a majority of the City Council, who pledged to defund the city’s police department before later retracting their statements. As a result, many residents who shared in the collective grief and anger over the murder of George Floyd and other countless victims of racialized police violence have felt sidelined by politicians who have walked back on their promise to prevent future killings. Officials in Minnesota and throughout the country have utilized law enforcement to curtail protest, and even the ability to assemble, as tactics of fear and manipulation of the law have been employed to crack down on protest and promote compliance.
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Galioto, K. (2021, April 19). As Chauvin verdict looms, military presence in Twin Cities unsettles some, reassures others. Star Tribune. https://www.startribune.com/as-chauvin-verdict-looms-military-presence-in-twin-cities-unsettles-some-reassures-others/600047529/
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Lim, S. [@SeanLimMN]. (2021, April 16). intersection of 3rd Ave S & 7th St S in downtown Minneapolis tonight.
Again, the State of Minnesota has unlimited resources for military occupations of our communities & cities. At every corner, on every street. This state values the protection of property over residents’ lives. [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/SeanLimMN/status/1383253606929862658
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The New York Times. (2021, April 23). What to Know About the Death of Daunte Wright. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/article/daunte-wright-death-minnesota.html
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