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‘A Human Reaction to a Deeply Dysfunctional Relationship’: The Connection Between Police Violence, Looting and Riots In Minneapolis

Protesters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, burned a police precinct in response to the death of George Floyd — killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with a knee to the man’s neck, with three other officers.

The recorded choking death of Floyd, who called for his deceased mother and complained he could not breathe moments before he died, has enraged the country, and the local community of Minneapolis specifically. While the four officers involved in the incident were terminated, and Chauvin was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The aftermath of the caught-on-video death of a Black man in police custody was marked by protests and looting, reflecting the frustration, anger, trauma and grief of a community facing systemic racism and demanding justice.

Like other urban rebellions, recent events in Minneapolis raise the issue of whether the focus should be placed on acts of police violence, or the public responses to those incidents. Twitter hid a tweet from President Trump, who glorified and fomented violence when he called protesters thugs, threatened to send in the National Guard and said “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The tweet referred to a quote from former Miami police chief Walter Headley, who promised violence against Black protesters who opposed stop-and-frisk practices in December 1967.  

In Minneapolis, the focus has shifted to the buildings damaged and looted amid the unrest, most notably the Third Police Precinct and a Target store that was burned down. The events in Minneapolis are not unlike similar uprisings and rebellions in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Grey, Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the Mike Brown shooting death, Los Angeles following the not guilty verdict in the Rodney King beating trial, and elsewhere following the death of a black man, woman or child while in police custody.

“For hundreds of years, Black communities have lived under state terror. Be it police violence or vigilante violence. When Black people uprise we must call it what it is. A human reaction to a deeply unstable and dysfunctional relationship to a country that has dehumanized us for centuries,” Patrisse Cullors, political strategist, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and founder of Reform LA Jails told Atlanta Black Star. “I am less concerned with corporations and the ways they are impacted by Black pain, and I am more interested in the freedom of Black people. Our demand is no longer about the accountability of law enforcement. Law enforcement is unable to be accountable. We must defund law enforcement and reimagine a world that relies on an economy of care versus an economy of punishment,” she added. 

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – MAY 29: A man rides a bicycle up to a law enforcement checkpoint after the city endured a night of protests and violence on May 29, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The National Guard has been activated as protests continue after the death of George Floyd which has caused widespread destruction and fires across Minneapolis and St. Paul. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In the 1960s, protest movements such as the Selma to Montgomery marches, and urban rebellions —- also known as race riots — in communities such as Detroit, Watts, Newark and elsewhere often were triggered by an act of police misconduct or brutality, the arrest of a Black resident or a death in police custody. Then, as now, people had much to say about the looting and riots, and why they took place.

The Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission report, was issued following the 1967 riots across the U.S. “The civil disorders of 1967 involved Negroes acting against local symbols of white American society, authority and property in Negro neighborhoods–rather than against white persons,” the report said. “’Prior’ incidents, which increased tensions and ultimately led to violence, were police actions in almost half the cases; police actions were ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.” The report also cited factors behind the riots such as white racism towards Black people, social and economic conditions facing the Black community in the urban centers, and discrimination and segregation in employment, education and housing.

Martin Luther King spoke on the riots that took place during his time and understood the underlying dynamics. “And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?” Dr. King said in a speech in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, on March 14, 1968, less than a month before he was assassinated. “It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

Reacting to the death of George Floyd and the unrest that has followed, observers are providing various perspectives on what constitutes looting, and explanations for what is unfolding in Minneapolis.

Alaina Pinkney — a filmmaker and brand architect from Minneapolis who currently resides in Atlanta and is the owner of Pinkney Creative, LLC — understands the causes of unrest in the city she called home for 35 years. She lived two blocks from the Minneapolis Third Precinct.

Pinkney told Atlanta Black Star she herself had an experience with Chauvin, the man who killed George Floyd. “Over 10 years ago, I was barbecuing at the lake with my family and that officer arrested my 9-year-old nephew because he was accused of stealing some fishing rods out from somebody’s boat, which he did take, but note that my nephew is severely autistic, so he didn’t know that he was stealing them. He thought he was borrowing them. And he did give them back, and the people did not press charges,” she said.

“But that officer, Derek Chauvin, arrested my nephew and put him in cuffs. … And when he brought my nephew back, he had him handcuffed, and it was an entire altercation with my sister and myself where he was saying, ‘I’m gonna teach him a lesson, I’ll let him out when I choose to let him out. I don’t have to listen to you. Who are you? Why are you guys at this park? Why are you guys here? Isn’t there a lake in your neighborhood that you guys can be at?’” Pinkney said. “All the other officers, just like the video, they’re taking cues from him. They do nothing.”

Pinkney, after noting how her attempts to hold Chauvin accountable for the interaction went nowhere, would continue, “This is the guy that you see on every stream, every Facebook page with his neck on the Black community, with his neck on George Floyd, and you wonder why these people are in a state of unrest, why there in a state of anger? There should be nothing to wonder at all, you should be more focused more on the problem, and not the reaction to it.”

On a recent MSNBC broadcast, author Wes Moore summed up the collective feeling of many about the Minneapolis unrest with a Nigerian proverb: “A child who does not feel the warmth of the village, will burn the village, in order to feel the warmth of the fire.”

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