Minneapolis Was A Powder Keg

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S1: For me, for a lot of people, there’s this one Slate headline that sums up what happened over the weekend. Police erupt in violence nationwide. Maybe you saw coverage on TV, maybe you scroll through videos on Twitter.

S2: Maybe you were there.

S3: A few blocks from my house in Brooklyn, I watched police brawl like they were hoping for a fight. And then I went online and saw police tasing and dragging two black people from their own car in Atlanta.

S2: I turned around and we see several officers go up to the car and start breaking the glass.

S3: I saw police arrest a CNN news crew in Minneapolis, three in a row now and shoot pepper balls at reporters in Louisville, Kentucky.

S4: They are.

S3: I saw Grace, too. Rare, powerful examples of leadership and police acting as guardians, not aggressors, like the sheriff in Flint, Michigan.

S5: I took the Labor Party hands down. I want to make this a parade.

S3: He heeded the protesters calls to walk with them.

S1: But the violence was overwhelming and it seemed to intensify by the day. These protests across the country, they’re not just about George Floyd, the Minnesota man who died after being pinned under a white officers knee for nearly nine minutes. These protests are about every black neck pinned under the near and the crook of an arm of a cop. They’re about a country already feeling helpless in the face of a pandemic, made to feel helpless again by racism and violence.

S2: We can’t breathe.

S3: So this is not just about George Floyd, but his death set it off. We’re going to spend some time trying to understand why why Minneapolis, with its progressive politics and its high standard of living, has a police force that has so lost the respect of the community that when a restaurant owner saw his business set aflame during protests last week, he said, Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served.

S1: Today on the show, how the Minneapolis police burned down their own house. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us. John Collins is a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio. He works on their Race, Class and Communities Desk a few years back. He did a whole podcast about the death of Flandreau Castiel and the prosecution of the police officers involved. John and I spoke last Friday. Protests in Minneapolis had taken a violent and chaotic turn.

S6: I’m sorry.

S1: I had been up for like four days straight at a police precinct, had been set on fire, and the National Guard had just been called in to take over for the Minneapolis police who had been unable to control events on the ground.

S6: It’s not unusual for Minneapolis police to use some sort of force on protesters. It’s usually seemingly in a strategic way. And it wasn’t clear what exactly they wanted the protesters to do in this case, specifically because, you know, they weren’t going to just disperse. So they just kind of scattered them over this larger area and barricaded themselves into the precinct. So it was only surprising in that it didn’t seem to have any sort of strategic goal for the police.

S1: But John says telling the story of police violence in Minneapolis means you’re also telling the story of police reform activism in Minneapolis and how that movement’s evolved. He first saw protests like this in 2015 after the shooting of another young black man. City police had responded to a nine one one call that a fight. They tried to arrest a 24 year old named Jama’a Clarke. Reports say Clarke resisted arrest. An officer then shot him in the head. He died of his injuries at the hospital. Almost immediately after the shooting demonstration started up.

S6: Certainly, like there have been lots of African-American men who have been killed by police over the years in Minneapolis, and typically there was some sort of small protest or something and then it would go away before too long. But with Jimar Clark, what happened is people protested and they focused on the police. And that’s the fourth precinct. It’s in north Minneapolis. It’s the one of the traditionally African-American neighborhoods in Minneapolis. And they protested over and over at the Fourth Precinct, and they actually occupied the grounds outside the fourth precinct in the middle of winter for more than two weeks. And in the middle of winter, by saying that in Minneapolis, that means it’s like 20 below and they’re pretty much living outside the bottles. Water freezing.

S1: Protesters shut down interstates, even tried to take over the Mall of America. This approach, digging in, forcing people to pay attention. It became a hallmark of Minneapolis activism, following tactics honed by Black Lives Matter. When Philander Castillo’s death was live streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend, the machinery of protest cranked to life again.

S6: Flandreau Castiel was like driving with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s daughter, and he got pulled over. He told the cop he had a gun, but he also had a permanent and yeah, and the officer shot and killed him. But the protests after Flandreau Castiel targeted disruption a little bit more. So they had a tactic of going on the interstates over and over and shutting down traffic. And it did anger a lot of people, but it also got them a lot of attention. And actually, that could be a lesson that folks kind of learn now that what works is disruption.

S1: I’m hoping you can remind people exactly what happened to the officers involved in Jama’a Clark’s death and in Flandreau Castillos death, because folks may not remember exactly what took place for those officers punished.

S6: So Minnesota, until just three years ago now, had never had a police officer charged for killing someone while they on duty? Never. Never. And the first time that officer was charged, it was Officer Harana Millionaires’ who shot and killed Philander Castiel in that car. And that was after a lot of pressure from activists and people in the community to file charges. And a lot of like worrying by the Ramsey County attorney on how exactly to proceed with filing charges. Castiel is African-American and her aunt, Mo Yan, as was Mexican-American, and he was acquitted on all counts. And in the case recently, it was July 2017, a woman, Australian woman who lived in Minneapolis with her partner, Justin WUS check thought she heard noises, went out to the alley. She called the police and a police officer named Mohammad Nur shot and killed her in her alley. He was also charged. That was the second one. And he’s Somali American. And that was third degree murder and manslaughter. And he was found guilty. And that was the first time that a police officer was ever found guilty for killing someone in Minnesota. And now we have the charges against this newest officer, Derrick Schavan, that are the first time actually a white police officer has been charged for killing anyone in Minnesota, even though we have one officer who’s been acquitted and one officer who is in jail right now.

S1: It’s interesting listening to you because you’re sort of sketching this picture for me of like an acceleration of bringing officers to some kind of justice where with Jamar Clark, there were no charges. And then with Flender Castiel, there were charges, but the officer was found not guilty. And then, you know, with his third shooting of a white woman who I believe had called police because she heard something in her driveway from her. The officer there was found guilty. So you can sort of see how. Reactions are changing in real time as each shooting happens.

S6: Right. Exactly. I mean, if we want to think about it to Harana Million is the officer who killed Flaneur Castiel. It took about four months for the authorities to arrest him. Mohamed Nur. It took about eight months at all. And then this newest officer, Derrick Schavan, took five days. And it happened in a way that is not typical at all, especially for a police officer where the State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension actually took him into custody, wasn’t a local police department or sheriff’s office or anything like that. It was the state going around Hennepin County to arrest a police officer.

S7: After the officer who shot for Lindow, Castiel was found not guilty. His mother gave this really emotional speech on the courthouse steps, I think, where she basically said, your children will be next and you’ll be standing up here.

S4: Fine. Yes. Well, I am so disappointed in the state of Minnesota.

S1: No, she she was so strong in what she said and she said, this is the city of Minneapolis. And she was clearly saying that this was racism. I wonder what to make of that. Now, like, you’ve you’ve spent so much time covering the police force in Minneapolis. I wonder if you see the institution is racist or maybe over militarized or maybe both.

S6: You know that one of the interesting things that’s happened in the last few years is that when something like this happens, the response time by local officials to make a statement about it has really accelerated and the tone that the officials take has accelerated. For instance, a few years ago, we wouldn’t have ever had our mayor chiming in on whether someone murdered someone or an officer murdered someone. But now we have our current mayor, Jacob Pratt was very fast to say. It took like three days for them to say this was murder and he should be charged. So I do think the sort of discussion and way people think about this and the way people think about race is becoming more blatant. And even people who are in positions of power are starting to accept that, like ingrained in how we police and how we have policed in the past is obviously racial issues.

S1: The mayor has tried to make some changes inside of the police department. Right. In terms of how they’re trained to deal with people training police in the state.

S6: Minnesota is relatively decentralized. You know, anyone who has, like, some minimum sort of credentials or experience can say, hey, I’m going to offer this class. They can submit it to the post board, which will likely approve it. One of the classes that was really common for officers all over the country to take was warrior training. It’s literally called warrior training. Yeah. I mean, that’s changed names a couple of times, but that’s essentially the point of it. It’s it’s teaching police officers to be very aggressive in protecting their own safety. And it came up as an issue because of Flandreau Castiel, because the officer in that case, Cranham Ilyana, as had taken the warrior training. And when it surfaced what this training was, it became controversial. And many departments in the state told their officers that they’re no longer going to pay for them to go to this particular training. So Frye was able to say, I’m going to just make it policy that no one can go to this training. And the response from the police union in that case was very aggressive. And they said, well, if you’re not going to pay for use public tax dollars to pay for this particular training that we think is important, then we’re going to pay for officers. I’m not sure how many they actually paid for it, but it was a very aggressive stance for them to take with the mayor. And that happened right from the very beginning of their relationship with him.

S1: In Minneapolis, the police union has been especially antagonistic. The current president, Bob Croll, he was named in a racial discrimination suit back in 2007. He allegedly wore a white power badge on his motorcycle jacket. He’s been quoted saying the Obama administration handcuffed and depressed the police. And he’s the subject of at least 29 complaints to the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review.

S6: Bob Croll is a controversial figure, but his predecessor at the Minneapolis Federation of Police was also a controversial figure. You might remember a couple of years ago. It sounds funny and quaint now, but it was a scandal called Pointer Gate, and it was essentially that Mayor Betsy Hodges was in the picture with an activist and they were like pointing their fingers at each other. And the activists had some sort of criminal record in his past. And the former president of the police union was one of the sources telling a local news station here, KSTP, that she was making gang symbols. It was a pretty offensive and kind of ridiculous on its face sort of charge.

S1: So the head of the police union really going for the throat with the mayor?

S6: Yes, certainly. And that’s traditionally how the police unions have oriented. Missiles towards the civilian leadership. So, I mean, that was kind of an embarrassment for the police union, but it also showed the clout that the union has. And when Bob Croll got elected and then re-elected, it shows Bob Krall’s style is what the rank and file members of his union think represents them the best.

S1: I wonder, it seems like Minneapolis has had a lot of chances to kind of do things better. There’ve been so many of these confrontations with police and civilians. It seems like the one thing they haven’t tried is totally turning the police force upside down. Is there even a process where that could happen?

S6: Because the police union is so powerful and their contract is really, really, really strong. It’s very, very hard for officers to be fired for anything less than, you know, being actually convicted of a serious crime. We have had some officers fired for some things, but most of the time, officers can petition and go to an arbitrator and get their jobs back. So even in cases where it looks bad to the public and it becomes news, officers often get their jobs back. So, like. Kind of turning the department upside down and getting rid of a bunch of people who someone thinks are bad apples is a really hard process. And I would probably take a lot of commitment and a lot of if a civilian like a mayor did it. Trust in the NPD leadership throughout the top of it.

S1: Well, the officers here were fired really quickly. Do you think those firings will stick?

S6: About half the time in Minnesota when it officers fired, they get their job back through arbitration. And that doesn’t count the times when officers fired and they say, OK, you know, I don’t really want to be a police officer anyway. So the arbitration system is like very opaque and we don’t really understand exactly how it works. But we know the results, which is that officers often get their jobs back in the end.

S1: Is there any sign that the officers themselves see this moment with George Floyd’s death as some kind of turning point apart from individual officers?

S6: There’s not in Minneapolis. One of the interesting things about this particular case and the response to it from law enforcement is that you’re finally seeing nationwide and even the chief in the city of St. Paul condemn police killing. And you never really saw that in the past before. But in this particular case, you’re starting to see some cracks in the wall of blue silence. I think at least nationally, but in the department, there’s not a ton of evidence that there are a lot of officers who dissent at this point.

S7: Have you or your colleagues been able to speak with George Floyds family?

S6: Know, I’ve spoken with their family quite a bit. Obviously, they’re distraught. But as is typical in these cases to the family, had a lawyer within, you know, a really quick time period. I think it was a day or two. So the lawyer makes a lot of statements for the family at this point, especially in a case like this where it’s internationally interesting to Good Morning America or whatever. But we are talking to his sister who is here, and also his girlfriend is here. So there are like ways that we’ve been able to, like, reach out to his family and find out a tiny bit more about, like, the sort of person he was.

S1: Yeah. I mean, has the family been able to express what justice would look like for them?

S6: They’ve said very bluntly. They want the officers to go to jail. They say they want justice.

S7: John Collins, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks for having me. John Collins is a reporter at Minnesota Public Radio. He’s also one of the hosts of 74 Seconds, a podcast about what came after the shooting, a full endocast deal. And that’s the show. What Next is produced by Daniel Hewitt, Jason de Leon and Mary Wilson. Every day we are led by Alicia Montgomery and Allison Benedikt are honorary safety chairs or Gene Malarky and Laura Burnett, who, after hearing I was having trouble finding masks, insisted on sending some over. Thanks for helping keep our team healthy and thank you for listening. I’m Mary Harris. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.