After four long nights without assistance from first responders in the wake of riots and looting after the death of George Floyd, Longfellow residents decided to take matters into their own hands. Many coordinated efforts to block off side streets along this stretch of East Lake Street, using caution tape, saw horses and makeshift barricades to protect residential areas from rioters.
Although police and the National Guard greatly outnumbered peaceful protesters on Saturday, that wasn’t always the case, and in neighborhoods across the Twin Cities, residents did everything they could to protect their own.
In Longfellow, Hillary Oppmann watched vandals loot the corner Walgreens for three straight nights without interference before arsonists finally lit it on fire last night. Firefighters didn’t make it to the scene for more than 7 hours.
“We can’t lose anymore community assets, like our libraries, pharmacies and post office,” said Oppmann, who lives three doors down from Lake Street. “They were simply left to burn.”
At the corner of Franklin Avenue and 15th Ave S. near downtown, Native American community members gathered at the 8 p.m. curfew to protect the businesses and housing in their neighborhood.
Michael Goze, CEO of the American Indian Community Development Corporation, said his group owns 14 properties in the area, including supportive housing, a trader’s market and a coffee shop.
Community members planned to fan out in small groups throughout the night to guard the various businesses in the area. The only damage the neighborhood had suffered as of Saturday night was a broken window at one of the properties the group owns.
“We just didn’t want to leave them to be vandalized,” Goze said. An immigrant business owner in the neighborhood had recently spent “all her money” to renovate her cafe, Goze said.
“She was worried that it would be all lost, and so I decided that this is what we’ve got to do,” he said.
In north Minneapolis, residents have banded together to protect the area from bad actors after several businesses along W. Broadway burned down the other night under mysterious circumstances. They sat in chairs every few hundred feet on Broadway, the area’s main commercial drag.
Eli Darris of the ACLU said the effort came about out of a need to take care of critical infrastructures while standing up for justice.
“At the end of us making sure that we’re standing up against the senseless, reckless and inhumane taking of our brother’s life, we still want to make sure that our grandmas, our aunties, our uncles, our nephews are gonna have banks to go to, grocery stores to go inside of and shop, and we’ve noticed is a very well orchestrated, well coordinated intentional attack against black businesses and we made a determination that we will no longer allow these insidious rubes to come into our community.” he said.
Longfellow Market, now boarded with plywood, is one of the few remaining grocery stores — after Target, Aldi and Cub Foods fell — thanks to dozens of neighbors who guard the store each night, along with Peppers & Fries sports grill across the street.
The residents, many donning bright yellow safety vests, communicate over handheld radios to alert each other about incoming danger. Some are armed with bats.
A group of community members on 29th Street and 18th Ave S. created a barricade on their street with construction signs and metal fences and wielded bats and some were wearing protective gear. Tim Springer went to a community meeting earlier today and it was suggested that people should protect their neighborhood because the police might not be able to.
“I’m totally disgusted that there are provocateurs that are turning this into something it shouldn’t be,” he said. “We should be focusing really hard on not only justice for George Floyd but also systems change.”
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that some people felt overwhelmed and in some cases terrorized by the National Guard effort.
But she also said they are standing up to lead the effort for reform.
“Many people of our communities are moving on, and they themselves are going to show vigilance and make sure they are protecting each other,” she said.