Night after night, tear gas has hung like a cloud over the Sterling Square Apartments, just across the street from the Brooklyn Center Police Department, seeping through the walls and air vents like an invisible predator.
The aggressive tactics have injured dozens of protesters and journalists and sent dangerous fumes and projectiles into the adjacent apartments, leaving residents sick and fearful for their safety in what many describe as a “war zone.” The tenants, many of them low-income and Black, have reported rashes and nose bleeds and say they are unable to sleep because of the fumes and noise.
Two Minnesota National Guard members were injured when someone fired on a security team made up of troops and the Minneapolis Police Department in a drive-by shooting early Sunday. There were no serious injuries, according to Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke, but he said the incident “highlights the volatility and tension in our communities right now.”
The killing of Wright, an unarmed Black man who was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop April 11, has not only increased anxiety over the potential for violent protests and looting, but it has also created confusion over who is in charge of efforts to keep the city safe. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D), Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D), the city police chief and the county sheriff all share in the role, but they appear to hold different views on how best to respond.
“It just feels like it’s more politically driven then productively saying, ‘What can we do to prevent people from getting harmed here,’ ” said Lonnie McQuirter, 35, owner of 36 Lyn Refuel Station in Minneapolis, who, like many residents here, is torn between needing police to protect his business and being concerned that an overly aggressive response will do more harm.
Last week, thousands of Minnesota National Guard troops began deploying throughout the city, taking up armed positions along commercial corridors and in residential neighborhoods alongside police officers as part of what city and state officials describe as a deterrent to potential looting and violence in response to the Chauvin verdict.
The unprecedented level of security includes more than 3,000 National Guard troops and at least 1,100 officers from public safety agencies across the state as part of a joint effort known as Operation Safety Net. The massive show of force, officials say, is aimed at preventing a repeat of the violence that erupted across the city last summer, including the burning of a police station and an estimated $350 million in damage to buildings and businesses.
But the wartime posture has alarmed some residents and elected officials who have repeatedly complained in recent weeks that the heavily militarized approach ignores the community’s trauma over the events of last summer, when mostly peaceful protesters were tear-gassed and injured by police action. Many elected officials believe that aggressive response resulted in the subsequent violence and destruction, lessons that some believe were ignored in Brooklyn Center.
On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted 11 to 1 in favor of a resolution calling on police to stop using tear gas, rubber bullets and “less-lethal” weapons to disperse crowds in Minneapolis, but because the administration of the police department falls under the mayor’s power, it was merely a “values statement,” as some members put it.
Last summer, in response to criticism about the police response to protests, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced a change in department rules that prohibits his officers from using pepper spray, tear gas or other nonlethal munitions without his authorization or that of someone he designates.
In the run-up to the Chauvin trial, Arradondo, the city’s first Black police chief, said the department had learned from and had conversations about the anger that fueled last year’s protests and said officers had been further trained in de-escalation measures.
Minneapolis City Council members pointed to the refusal of sheriff’s department deputies to comply with Brooklyn Center requests to cease the use of tear gas and other aggressive tactics and questioned who will ultimately be in charge of making that call in their city.
On Thursday, Arradondo reiterated that he will have operational control over all law enforcement flooding into the city and that he, in consultation with other leaders of the joint operation, would decide on the tactics used.
“Ultimately, in our jurisdiction, it would be my call,” Arradondo said in a briefing on the city’s security plans related to Chauvin’s trial.