Column: The Looting Continues

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Photo Credit: Marjaan Sirdar.

By Marjaan Sirdar, Freelance Writer

The UpTake is not responsible for the content of this column.

With all of this talk of misdirected anger after the “looting” in downtown Minneapolis, it is important to understand that communities of color have been looted for centuries beginning with the theft of this land and Black labor during slavery. Wednesday night’s destruction of downtown businesses was triggered by what was initially believed to be another police shooting. The police said that that account was a lie and immediately released video confirming it was actually a public suicide rather than homicide. Phillips neighborhood resident Rachel Anderson posted the irony of this on social media: “MPD with the record speed video release when it clears them.” As if the scab of a recent wound had been ripped off, the truth did not seem to matter much to the people in the streets. Although it has been 95 days since the MPD murdered George Floyd, we haven’t forgotten the injustice and the fact that no elected officials have been held accountable since the murder and destruction of our city.

Looting communities of color

The extractive relationship in this town has remained uninterrupted. Covid-19 has exposed modern day wage slavery not just in this city but in this country. In Minneapolis, white people disproportionately own land, property and businesses thus disproportionately controlling the rising rents and stagnant wages. Black and brown workers disproportionately make up the low-wage workforce who are now deemed “essential workers” and have little choice to stay home and protect themselves from the pandemic because landlords need to make profits first and foremost. 

On August 3rd, Cup Foods reopened on 38th & Chicago, where George Floyd was murdered by former officer Derek Chauvin. Despite the threats of community members wanting to burn the store to the ground and the store’s long history of criminal activity, but ironically no criminal prosecution as reported by Minnesota Spokesman Recorder, councilmembers Alondra Cano and Andrea Jenins allowed them to reopen their business anyway. Cup Foods, just like many businesses not owned by Black folks, has a predatory relationship with our community. It is no coincidence they opened at the beginning of the month when it is debt collecting time. Anyone who thinks this movement is simply about ending police violence is not paying attention. This is a rebellion against the land and property owning class who have been looting Black, brown and Indigenous communities for centuries.  As one local activist told me, “The cops are just the bouncers in the club.”

Breakdown in leadership

Mayor Frey wasted no time calling for National Guard and citywide curfews to crush the demonstrations this time. However, officials did not repeat the mistake of blaming “outside agitators” for the destruction; a lie designed to take agency away from rightfully pissed off people and to hide the fact that local leaders lost control of the city to their own residents. The lie was also designed to absolve law enforcement after brutally assaulting “outside” evil doers, which would cause backlash if they assaulted their own people in the same fashion. 

City leaders have not improved the conditions of our most vulnerable communities in the least since the last uprising in May; the core issues underpinning the rage after the murder of Floyd. The city council, who promised to defund and dismantle MPD, completely backtracked and instead have decided on reform, whatever that means. Labor organizer, Daniel Moore, said Thursday on social media: “Gov. Walz even said in his speech last night that “further looting will risk possible reforms for the future”… THAT IS WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO HANG OUR HAT ON ?!?, the potential of vague modest reforms. That’s insane, and NO self-respecting leader who has any legitimacy with the rowdy activists and youth doing the looting and fires, could even use that as a reason for them to deescalate… There have been NO gains for people to celebrate, and therefore NO victories for people to worry about losing.” City and state leaders seemed determined to call the people’s bluff again. This time, on top of the murder of Floyd and countless others at the hands of MPD, people are also pissed about the violent park evictions of unhoused friends and family members by police ordered by the city. 

Breakdown in values

The world has seen evidence of police and Wisconsin National Guard collaborating with white armed militia men after 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse murdered two protestors in Kenosha this week. It has long been suspected that police in Minneapolis are either directly or indirectly committing acts of crime and violence in our neighborhoods, following the murder of George Floyd. On councilmember Jenkins August 5th virtual town hall, I asked Chief Arradando some very straightforward questions that he refused to answer. “Can you assure our community that your officers are not responsible for the crime and violence in our communities and are you surveilling them like you would do our community members had they murdered a cop? And what is MPD’s relationship with CUP Foods?” Jenkins refused to have the chief answer these questions and refused to call on me again when I asked for follow up. There were over 200 constituents in the virtual town hall who witnessed this. Leaders refusing to address questions about community safety is more than bad leadership: it is a breakdown in values. Everyone who watched this must question: Whose side is Jenkins really on? Would council president Lisa Bender allow the chief to not answer questions around safety at a town hall on public safety she hosted for her ward? 

Strength of our movement

If we are unable to hold elected officials accountable then our movement has no real significant power. In order to hold power accountable we have to align different advocacy and protest groups. If our city burns this time without any politicians being held accountable, beginning with Mike Freeman, Jacob Frey, and Bob Kroll, then we should prepare ourselves for a very long and violent winter. 

No longer are the days when leaders can expect people to peacefully protest while ignoring the grievances they are protesting against. Unfortunately, Minneapolis city leaders are proving to its residents that peaceful protesting does not work. If our elected officials refuse to be held accountable, continue to allow communities of color to be exploited and further repressed, and our only options as constituents are voting them out in 16 months or burning down the city: we find ourselves in an existential crisis. 

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