This summer, American cities erupted in violence, riots some on the edge of a race war not seen since the sixties, following the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police. That led to calls for police reform and even police department defunding the police. We sent Scott Thuman to Minneapolis to see who was in charge of law and order.
(The story begins with video of protests in Minneapolis)
Scott Thuman: This is when chaos overcame order. On the night of May 28th, just after 10pm, police are ordered to abandon Minneapolis’s third police precinct. Shortly afterward, it is set ablaze. Just one incident out of hundreds over four nights, when the full-throated anger and frustration following the death of George Floyd turned into full-scale rioting. Two months later, we’ve come to see how the people of Minneapolis and police are reacting. It is still, very much, a city, on edge.
Every weekend since May, Dustin Sanchez and his neighbors have blockaded their uptown neighborhood after sunset shutting down and patrolling their own streets, communicating on walkie talkies, sometimes armed because those are the most dangerous hours. It is a risky routine. In late June, a shootout erupted around them. Eleven people were hurt, with close calls for his crew.
Dustin Sanchez: It happened about 12:30, and you just hear a pop, pop, pop. And then pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
Scott: The bullets were whizzing by you?
Sanchez: They hit some windows there. They hit the movie theater; they hit the shoe store.
Scott: You've never seen anything like this here?
Sanchez: No, never. Never.
Scott: A few miles away, across town, more barricades put up. Abdi Hassan and his neighbors are on watch and ready for anything.
Scott: So you went and bought a shotgun?
Abdi Hassan: Yes.
Scott: Abdi came from war-torn Somalia where he’d seen warlords reign with violence. Here in Minneapolis, he has now seen his wife and children, confronted at gunpoint.
Scott: They pointed the gun at your kids?
Hassan: By the time I was coming down the stairs with the shotgun, I heard a shot. So now I'm thinking: "Who got hurt?" Is it my wife? Is it my kids? So by the time I came out of the door, the guy who shot the bullet, went into my wife's car, and tried to take her keys. She got hold of his gun, his hand, and she was going like this, and he let her go.”
Scott: It’s not that the police aren’t around, they’re just stretched thin. In the two months since Floyd’s death, Minneapolis saw a twenty percent rise in violent crimes. There were twice as many murders in June as the year before. Businesses faced with riots and the risk of being looted or burned to the ground turned to hiring military contractors to defend their properties when the police couldn't. Steven Hernandez, a U.S. Army veteran who served a tour in Iraq, who now runs his own international security firm, was paid to put those skills to use, protecting a grocery store.
Steven Hernandez: People don't understand what it's like to live in a world of chaos here in the U.S. Some of us understand it because we've worked overseas.
Scott: What does that say about the situation if people like you are being called in to help?
Hernandez: It's a serious situation when too many people are concerned about leaving their homes. When people are coming out and thanking guys that are on the ground, because they don't know who to call. They don't know who to call if they feel unsafe, they're afraid to call the police. Uncertainty drives chaos. So, being able to deliver a little bit of certainty to the world is what we look to do.
Scott: It’s needed. We followed the Minneapolis police one night. Calls on the scanner were constant, from shootings to a fatal stabbing and emergency medical teams, scrambling, unwilling to respond at times, until police secured the scene.
The street leading to the scene of George Floyd’s death is not just a memorial. According to gang members we spoke to, it’s their territory now.
Scott: Artist and community organizer Ephraim Cruz Usebio lives and works nearby.
Ephraim Cruz Usebio: I feel like we're living in a different world now, a different country. People like me, I'm 50 years old. I've never considered owning a firearm before, but now I'm going to take a class.
Scott: If need be he will take up arms, but reluctantly, until others make a change.
Ephraim Cruz Usebio: If we could change the conversation to demilitarization, I think that's very important. It's just too ingrained in our communal psyche to see a cop showing up armed, body armor, police car, lights flashing. That's got to be defunded.
Scott: But not disbanded, some argue, as that would only make matters worse.
Cathy Spann: For the first time in my history of working in this community and living in this community, I am afraid. I am afraid.
Scott: Cathy Spann leads a community council in North Minneapolis and agrees there needs to be massive reforms, but she is not okay with getting rid of the police, as some suggest.
Spann: Our city council was talking about defunding and dismantling the police department, the only entity that I know right now that can keep me safe. You are not going to leave me unprotected in my house. You're going to tell me that you're going to disband the Minneapolis police department and without a plan of action that says, 'this is what the alternative is.'
Scott: In Minneapolis, the question of what the new law and order will be is a frightening prospect.