They call themselves the “USS Enterprise.” A group of four self-professed nerds from south Minneapolis who have been friends since high school. Their idea of a fun night is to watch Star Trek reruns or play “Magic the Gathering.”
The group arrived at the Fifth Precinct on Saturday afternoon to provide medical assistance and to show solidarity with the African-American community, and not seeking or wanting any conflicts with police.
“We believe that if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem,” said Jordan Vonmandel, a chef and member of the group. “We are sick and tired of police brutality being overlooked.”
But events took a violent and chaotic turn and the group spent much of the night fleeing tear gas and rubber bullets, then regrouping and fleeing again, in a chaotic choreography that left them feeling frustrated and exhausted. With every strategic retreat, the group checked the edges of the crowd for anyone injured by rubber bullets or tear gas. Each carried backpacks full of medical supplies, including bandages, gauze, eye drops and homemade saline solution in large spray bottles. Each wore gas masks from a nearby Ace Hardware.
About every 50 yards, the medic team would stop and spray saline solution in a protester’s eyes, often as the person was screaming and crying.
One of the group’s biggest challenges was staying together amid the dense smoke and near-constant running.
For Claire Indritz, it was her first protest and she took special care to make sure the her friends did not separate from each other, touching each of them on their shoulders and counting them out — “one, two, three, four!” — after each mad dash from the tear gas.
“Sticking together is critical,” Indritz said. “You can spot more people who need help if you’re working as a group. If we separate, we lose power.”
The group had its own internal dynamics, including conflicts over when to run and when to hold ground. Indritz called herself a “stand-my-ground kind of girl” and would sometimes insist they help injured protesters before moving on.
At one point, she stopped to put bandages on a pregnant woman even as rubber bullets rained down in Lake Street. Her persistence ignited anger and yelling from Vonmandel, her longtime friend from high school, who became increasingly concerned that she would be shot or injured.
“Claire, we’ve got to get the (expletive) outta here!” Vonmandel yelled, as a long line of cops in riot gear approached.
“No, let’s stay. It’s a sign of weakness to retreat,” Indritz yelled back.
“Claire, if you don’t move I’m going to pick you up and move you my damn self,” he said.
Finally, she relented and the group sprinted down Lake Street — shoulder to shoulder, repeatedly yelling, “Who needs medical!”
By 11 p.m., Indritz had grown frustrated of hours of being chased down smoke-covered streets, and told the group that she was heading home. She had plans, anyway, to watch an electronic dance festival online with her friends. Vonmandel walked with Indritz through the darkened streets for protection, as they joked about their favorite animé television shows.
“I would have stayed had it stayed peaceful — had we been allowed to stay there and watch the speakers” outside the Fifth Precinct, she said, walking toward her duplex in south Minneapolis, gas mask in hand.
“We’re losing sight of what this was all about — an innocent man being murdered by a corrupt system.”