Minnesota Not-So-Nice—The Killing of George Floyd

by Jamie Kruger

When officer Derek Chauvin was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck on a Minneapolis street last Monday, it probably felt like routine to the white man who has a long record of abuse and excessive force. And in a sense it was: African Americans in the US suffer from racist actions on a daily basis. For his partners in crime, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng, everything seemed normal as well—providing cover for the abuse, making sure no bystanders get in the way.

George Floyd was begging for air, to be able to breathe, but the racist system that breeds inhumane police officers did not even grant this basic human need to him. He was killed in cold blood. The murder of African Americans by white cops also happens on a routine basis, think Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, and so many more over the years. Yet this time something is different. The rebellion that started in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul) and that is now sweeping the whole country is unprecedented in recent history.

The Beginnings of the Revolt

On Monday, May 25, the police were called to a local corner store on Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis because of a suspected forgery. When the police officers arrived, they found George Floyd sitting in a nearby car. Little is known what precipitated the arrest, but the police later claimed he was resisting arrest which is why they pinned him to the ground face down with Derek Chauvin kneeling with his full body weight on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes while two other officers held down his body.

Not fazed by Floyd’s begging for air and bystanders pleading to let him breathe, Chauvin did not even loosen his choke-hold after Floyd became unresponsive and limp—he was declared dead after paramedics brought him to the hospital, although other, unofficial reports had him unresponsive and without a pulse at the scene. After the gruesome video footage was posted that disputed the police narrative, people started gathering at the store and crowds soon swelled demanding justice.

At a speed not seen before, the four Minneapolis Police Department officers were fired and the FBI was brought in to investigate. The pressure brought about by the numbers and militant and aggressive fight-back against this latest example of police terror was the direct cause of the speed with which Chauvin and the others were fired. However, much to the surprise of local and state officials, this did not calm the protesters and people continued what they had started on Monday night after Floyd’s murder with an increasingly combative posture. It culminated in the early hours of Thursday night and Friday morning when they marched to the 3rd Precinct where the officers were stationed and burned it to the ground. Chauvin was taken into custody and charged later that Friday.

Even while public pressure mounted, though, it still took until May 29 for Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, to order the arrest of Derek Chauvin with charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter. No charges have been put forth against the three officers assisting Chauvin in the killing of Floyd as of this writing.

Police Terror in Minneapolis

Police brutality and racial profiling is nothing new in the Twin Cities. It is just as prevalent and long -established as in other big cities throughout the US. The Minneapolis police force is historically known to breed a culture of white supremacy and excessive force. The union representing the Minneapolis Police Department’s 800+ officers, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, is led by Lt. Bob Kroll, an outspoken Trump supporter who has been accused in a lawsuit, actually brought by the current chief of police Medaria Arradondo, of donning a “White Power” button on a motorcycle jacket in the past. Kroll is a strong believer in the “broken-window” policy that disproportionately effects neighborhoods of color. This deep rooted and systematic racism is allowed to flourish because the political and judicial system allows and condones it. For example, only 1% of complaints filed against officers since 2012 have resulted in disciplinary actions.

Racial inequalities in Minneapolis are among the worst in the US. Besides segregated living, African Americans in Minnesota are hit hard with education and health care disparities. Exacerbating the health crisis within the black and brown communities is the fact that the current Covid-19 pandemic is hitting them disproportionately: many work first-line, low-paying jobs and have gotten laid off on top of many having preexisting health conditions and inadequate health insurance.

This latest killing of an unarmed African American man provided the spark for an uprising that is rooted in a long history of racial disparities in Minnesota and especially in Minneapolis. The state that upholds the idea of “Minnesota Nice” and claims to be welcoming and open has been systematically oppressing People of Color throughout its history. White residents of the Twin Cities consider themselves progressive and inclusive, yet traditional black neighborhoods in the city center have been eradicated to make room for highways and historically red-lined neighborhoods continue to be underserved. The majority of the black and brown population in Minneapolis still lives in highly segregated areas.

The underlying forces of oppression provided the fuel for this ongoing rebellion. People in the streets demand that the other three officers are charged and arrested and an end to the killing of unarmed African Americans. After protests grew and clashes with the local police escalated, buildings were set on fire and widespread looting occurred. In a show of force, Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, brought in an unprecedented number of the National Guard in order to quell the uprising, and implemented a curfew from 8:00pm to 6:00am through the weekend. In addition, all public transport was halted, causing even more hardships for the poor and working class in the Twin Cities.

The fact that more and more people in an increasing number of cities join in the rebellion against an openly racist system, and the force with which the political system tries to crush it, shows the urgent need for a political and social revolution. People in the streets are starting to realize that this system is inhumane and can be fought against. It is to be hoped that the masses won’t be quenched with lofty promises of reform in the future—something we have heard over and over again.

Organize the Anger and Change the System

We need to organize the anger! We need to build structures in the here and now that will ultimately call the whole capitalist system into question. We need a People’s Tribunal to challenge the rotten judicial system that is fundamentally based on oppression—oppression of People of Color, oppression of women and the LGBTQ+ communities, and oppression of the poor and working class. We need to build self-defense forces to protect us from the oppressive State and its henchmen, along with the fascist and white nationalist forces that have attempted to infiltrate the demonstrations and have targeted libraries, post offices and local petite bourgeois neighborhood businesses. These structures need to be rooted in the working class and the unions if we want to be successful in this struggle.

As with everything else in this continuing crisis of the capitalist system, if it happens for the people, it will only happen because of the people. We will not find answers in black police chiefs, district attorneys who cover for police terror, Democratic Party governors and mayors, or Republican presidents nor will it happen through elections. All of these “remedies” have been tried for decades and still have not stopped the murder of black citizens by the people who are supposed to “protect and serve” them. Not even increasing the number of black and minority cops will change anything because being a cop is a function of the system, not an identity that can have an effect on that function or that system.

This is an evolving situation that we expect to continue to analyze and comment on over the next few weeks and months, but one thing is sure even at this early date in the struggle. It’s all got to change or nothing will change.