Last Night Was Different: More on the Fires in my Cities

You don’t stop rioting by repeating the same behaviors that started them.

TW: civil unrest, violence, racism

Yesterday afternoon, and as we neared citywide curfew, more and more of my friends pleaded with people to stay home. And we were told to get ready for something much worse than we’ve seen before. The Mayor of Hudson nearby had requested federal assistance after being alerted that 70,000 to 75,000 agitators from other cities were traveling here.

We were told to prepare our homes. This meant turning on all your lights, bringing your trash in from the back alley, removing any throwable objects from your lawn, hosing down your house’s exterior, and taking down any sign or suggestion that there are persons of color, gay people, or immigrants living in your home. They recommended having a bag packed in case you need to leave quickly. More than 10,000 in the national guard and other armed services would be descending upon the city throughout the night.

I slept on the couch near the front door, with the windows open so I could hear if anything was happening in my neighborhood. A friend stayed at our house, worried that her home could be near activity. I checked alerts when I woke up every thirty minutes to an hour. Throughout the night, the St. Paul Police and others stopped unmarked vehicles throughout the city, who abandoned their vehicles and fled on foot each time, leaving “tools used to wreak havoc on our city behind.” State officials confirmed this morning that many of the cars stopped were stolen locally and full of rocks and weapons. The Governor also confirmed this morning a sophisticated cyber attack on state computers. A local pastor said he had seen neo-Nazis in his neighborhood, marked by red or green tape on their clothes or arm bands. State officials had notified local black churches of rumors emerging that they would be attacked. Last night, any time I heard a car drive down our street I watched it carefully from our window.

Some have made claims about protestor violence, claims hobbled together from video clips and interpretive claims. I watched live footage for hours last night of unarmed protestors who had marched peacefully from Lake Street and made their way to the bridge which would have brought them from Minneapolis over into my neighborhood, where they would walk three blocks from my house. I don’t fear them. They have hurt no one.

They didn’t make it. Instead, we heard from our windows the sound of sirens as both police and military met them on the other side. Police and military forces did not attempt any dialogue or communicate what would happen. Instead, when the unarmed protestors had made their way near them, we watched as police hurled tear gas canisters and flash bangs at unarmed civilians and reporters. Last night, I would have been more likely to go to the hospital because of police violence than because of those protestors.

Other interactions with law enforcement yesterday:

In Minneapolis, a group of young women sat on their porch while armed military made their way through their neighborhood, which did not have protestors. The military yelled at them to go inside, but they stayed on their porch videoing the situation, possibly (1) having in mind that only travel within the Cities was banned and (2) also wanting to record in case of military or police violence. And that’s what they did. The military began shooting paint canisters at unarmed civilian women sitting on their front porch, all of which they caught on video.

Also in the Twin cities, a Star Tribune reporter tried to turn left to get out of a protest area, and his passenger window was blown out with a marker round by law enforcement officials, filling his car with smoke. He shared that the glass shattered into his face and body, with bleeding on his face and arm. No warning was given.

Others shared video of a little girl being maced by police in Seattle during a peaceful protest with many children present. The Mayor of Seattle issued a statement in response to a request for comment but did not discuss the specific incident.

In Louisville, police shot rubber bullets at an unarmed reporter while she was reporting.

On Twitter, our President said that looters should be shot on sight, quoting a police chief from 1967 who also said, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality. They haven’t seen anything yet.”

This does not account for all the violence. I’m not saying there aren’t citizen bad actors here. But if you want to see where the much of the violence starts, and where it escalates, there you go. You don’t stop rioting by repeating the same behaviors that started them. A part of me is thankful for a quieter night, given all the military presence. But another part of me knows that this is a short term solution, and that the peace we have now is illusory. Racism is only one part of the present problem, albeit probably the biggest part. Another part is police brutality and a failure to de-escalate. Which you don’t fix with… police brutality and a failure to de-escalate (or, in many cases, police brutality and clear escalation).

We did have at least one confirmed shooter last night. Police confirmed a shooter in Minneapolis, whom the caller identified as a white supremacist (police have not yet confirmed the latter).

With regards to this last report, I want everyone to take a minute to think about: I’m not the primary target, but if the caller was correct, then that person would have shot me. Leading up to the evening, community members said to make sure to remove anything from your homes that may have identified you as either a person of color, as an immigrant, or as gay. Imagine how your black neighbors must be feeling right now. We have many black gay immigrants in our community. If you were white, you were safe.

There are conflicting reports right now about recent events. It’s not clear where all of the outside agitators came from or who they represent. But it is clear who started all this, whose fault my city’s chaos can be tied back to: it comes back to a police officer who killed an unarmed helpless black man, and a police department and society who let him believe he could get away with it. If you don’t know who to blame or who is responsible, start there. And keep in mind that culpability lies with you as well, particularly if you are a member of the community that has not taken active steps against these problems in the past. Culpability lies with me.

Some are begging me to leave the Twin Cities, trying to push me to step away from what’s happening in my community. Instead, please push for a better world. And use your fear for me as a springboard for empathy. That fear you feel for my safety, if I step out into the street, if I encounter a white supremacist or the police… that’s the fear many persons of color experience every day, for themselves and for their children. Can you imagine all of the black parents who couldn’t sleep last night, who went into their children’s rooms every hour to check on them? Don’t just push for a safer world for me. Push for a safer world for them. That world will be a safer world for all of us.

This conversation shouldn’t be about me. It should be about George Floyd. Don’t let your fear of danger for me eclipse the injustice of death for him.

Many feel helpless right now. But you are not helpless. What can you do today? Respond to someone trying to pin everything on black people. Report racism. Learn one more thing about racism and implicit bias today. Attend a peaceful protest and tell people what you see. Peaceful protests are happening today, and I hope to see you there. If you can’t join and don’t know what to do, this list is a helpful starting point. Don’t rely on your black friends to educate you; you can read a book. It’s not their job to support you right now; it’s your job to support them.

No one of us can do everything. But all of us can do something. We must.

I wish you all well. Stay safe.

I highly recommend watching this update from Governor Walz:

Some resources, if you’re interested:

Other related writings:

Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops. 

12 comments on “Last Night Was Different: More on the Fires in my Cities

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