Minnesota Senate Committee Continues to rehash the civil unrest, this time focusing on the state’s response

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The Minnesota Senate held its third joint Transportation and Judiciary Committee hearing about the civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd on Thursday, this time focusing on the state’s role in response to the unrest. As with the previous two hearings, Thursday’s hearing began with a video made up of news clips and Twitter posts highlighting law enforcement responses, and included footage of Governor Tim Walz speaking about the state’s response. 

After the video, Major General Jon Jensen, the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard appeared before the joint committee. Jensen began with a short statement listing previous 5 times the Minnesota National Guard had been deployed in Minnesota under similar circumstances, during labor disputes, civil rights protests, and other moments of civil unrest.

According to Jensen, he first was notified that the Minnesota National Guard may need to be involved in the response to protests on Wednesday evening on May 29, saying he had a conversation with Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, John Harrington. “He indicated there was a large protest that was scheduled for Saturday,” Jensen said, noting that 75,000 protesters were expected in Minneapolis. “His assessment was that the city of Minneapolis was going to need assistance.” 

In response to a question by Senator Andrew Lang (R-Olivia), Jensen talked to the joint committee about the increase of response by the Minnesota National Guard over the course of that week.  

“As we all watched the events late Thursday night, it immediately occurred to me that 200 wasn’t going to be enough,” Jensen said. That number increased to 700 on Friday, the number of soldiers the Minnesota National Guard has trained in civil unrest. 

“This is not a core task of the Army or the Air Force,” Jensen said. “We train 700 soldiers to respond to this particular mission. They receive specific civil disturbance training.” 

Jensen added that 700 was also similar in size to the Minneapolis Police Department, part of the reason that number was selected. But more importantly, he felt it important to utilize trained guards people. 

“Civil Unrest is a very complex mission so as bad as Thursday night was, I wasn’t quite comfortable going and saying let’s bring on less trained soldiers,” he said. He went on to discuss the effectiveness of those 700 troops. “Friday night looked horrible on TV, but Friday night was the night things began to change,” Jensen said. “My assessment of the situation is that , it’s not a  light switch, it’s a dimmer.” 

By Sunday, 7,123 guard members were activated, according to Jensen. Of those, 18 were injured over the course of the unrest, he said. Those injuries included low back pain, a left knee sprain, diarrhea, heat exhaustion, low back pain, abdominal pain, a chipped tooth from eating a hamburger, a injured index finger from a squirrel, left hip pain, and allergies. Jensen added that all of the guard were tested for COVID-19, and 5 tested positive. 

The focus of many of the Republican Senators questions were about what could have been done differently in response to the protests, with many making comments that they would have liked to see a stronger show of force earlier. Meanwhile, the Democratic Senators questioned why so much time was spent on the hearings about the unrest, when a better use of time would be on what caused the unrest in the first places. 

“What is at the root cause of civil unrest?” asked Senator Scott Dibble (DFL, Minneapolis.) “We are now on the third of five or six, four-hour plus hearings and I think unpacking these questions and learning about what the citizens of this state are feeling and asking us for would be a tremendous use of our time,” he said. “We are not doing that and I think that is a shame.” 

In the afternoon hearing, Harrington returned to testifying, after speaking with the joint committee the previous day. He was asked by Senator Scott Newman (R Hutchinson), the Chair of the transportation committee, about his communication with the Governor. 

“My question is, were you and the governor having any kind of philosophical debate within yourselves as to whether to use force to stop this criminal activity?” Newman asked. 

“Mr. Chair, no there is not,” Harrington replied.  In fact those who were crying out for justice for George Floyd could not be heard because of the criminal activity going on.” 

Later, Senator Jeff Howe (R, Rockville), asked if Governor Tim Walz “misled” the public saying the state was taking the lead on the response to the protests. “I truly believe the governor misled the public saying we’ve got this, this is on us,” Howe said. “Wouldn’t you agree?” 

Harrington responded that he believed the governor meant the state would do more than wait for an assignment. “We put together the team that was going to take back Lake Street,” Harrington said. “That was a state-led initiative.” 

Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis-based journalist. She's a regular contributor to The UpTake, and also contributes to TC Daily Planet and City Pages. Her work can also be found at mnartists, VitaMN, Classical MPR and in other local publications.

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