Walker Church Tenants Say Fire Investigation Botched

Did someone intentionally torch the headquarters of several Minneapolis political and social action groups on Memorial Day? Tenants of the old Walker Community United Methodist Church say we may never know for sure because the city ordered the building demolished a few hours after the fire was put out.

According to a Minnesota Public Radio report, “city officials say the remains of the structure were demolished because they posed a safety hazard, adding that fire investigators were able to examine the rubble before the demolition.”

Three of the tenants of the building aren’t satisfied with that explanation, questioning why the building was torn down so quickly, particularly on a holiday.

They claimed that the fact the church was torn down only four hours after the fire was extinguished removed any possibility of investigating the cause of the blaze. They were also denied access to the building before the demolition to retrieve property that was visible to them including a mailbox on an external wall. The mailbox was for the Communities United Against Police Brutality, one of the social action groups with space in the church. The mailbox was stolen right after the demolition.

Michelle Gross, president of the Communities United Against Police Brutality said that in addition to the stolen mailbox, they lost many records and documents including three hard drives with copies of the police surveillance cameras from the 2008 RNC in St. Paul. They had lobbied hard for many months to get the videos and were charged a substantial price for the hard drives.

Deb Konechne, co-founder of the Welfare Rights Committee some 20 years ago, reflected the emotions of the loss of 20 years of history and documentation of the committee’s activities in combating. “The war against the poor.” This committee has been a very visible force in the legislature fighting the Republican agenda of reducing aid to poor families and poor children. Konechne said they had not been notified of the pending demolition and they were prevented from retrieving items form the less damaged west basement.

Konechne also said that there had been an incident two months when all the gas stove burners and the oven had been turned on flooding the church with gas. Emergency crews prevented an explosion. The incident was described as possible arson.

Mikael Pensec, Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee echoed the complaints of the other two participants.

The church has been the home and a refuge for many social action groups over the years including Occupy Minneapolis and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression. KFAI Radio started in the building and many other arts groups have enjoyed the facility.

All three groups said they will continue working in borrowed spaces and since the core of the groups existence is in the minds of the participants they won’t miss many beats.

They have formally asked that all photos and documentation by the city and the raw footage at the television stations be preserved.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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