Reese Farrell was walking near her home in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis on Wednesday night when more than a dozen armored National Guard vehicles rumbled down the block.
"All this military presence — it feels strange, like I'm in a movie or something," the 17-year-old said.
As the end of the Derek Chauvin trial draws closer, state and local officials have ordered a show of force that some say has transformed the Twin Cities into an eerie, alarming, almost alternate-reality version of their hometowns.
Thousands of armed Guard members in fatigues are stationed on street corners — in front of libraries, laundromats, pharmacies, restaurants, office buildings and grocery stores. Businesses have boarded up windows, public buildings are surrounded by razor wire and for several nights last week curfews forced Twin Cities residents indoors after dark.
Stung by criticism of the response to riots last spring, when more than 1,000 buildings and businesses were damaged, Gov. Tim Walz, Mayor Jacob Frey and other leaders have opted for a massive presence to maintain law and order.
Some residents and business owners say the militarization makes them feel more secure. Others fear it is suppressing the voices of those seeking criminal justice reform in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
"I want to see justice and change, but I also don't want my city to burn," Dan Woodward said as he walked through a quiet Nicollet Mall during what once would have been the evening rush hour. The block was bookended by two Guard patrols, who nodded hello to the sparse groups of passersby.
Local law enforcement and the Guard suddenly ramped up their public presence last week after a police officer fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was Black and unarmed, during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center. As protests over Wright's death continue in the suburb, Minnesotans are expecting to learn as early as this week whether Chauvin will be found guilty in the death of Floyd last May.
Some locals have lobbed criticism at officials, saying the display of force is an attempt to stifle First Amendment rights that is causing unnecessary trauma for people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by police violence.
"I'm mad," Channah Roseann said as she walked home from her gym in Uptown, a route that led her past at least four military vehicles Thursday evening. "I feel like, if anything, they're trying to look out for maybe the big businesses that might lose money, or richer white people that they're trying to protect. I don't feel like it's me that they're trying to look out for."
The fortification of government buildings was expected to cost at least $1 million, Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials said in March. In northeast Minneapolis, the city's second police precinct is surrounded by layers of concrete barricades, metal fences and barbed wire.
Jibril Hamud, whose brother owns the nearby Central Deli and Coffee, worries the restaurant's proximity to the police station makes it more at risk of being damaged during unrest.
Hamud, who has lived in the Twin Cities for more than 20 years after immigrating from Somalia, also said the increased military has at times made him more worried for his own safety.
"Is reaching for my wallet going to give them permission to shoot me?" he said.
Not far away on Central Avenue NE., Germain Pérez wondered aloud why two armed soldiers were standing outside Durango Bakery. Were they acting on intel? Did they expect something to happen in the neighborhood?
"I slept well last night," said 28-year-old Pérez, who owns the bakery and lives above it. "I think it makes the community safer."
Across the Twin Cities, residents have expressed confusion about the National Guard's directives. Why did they decide to post up next to patio diners on Lyndale Avenue? How could residents of Minneapolis' Seward neighborhood request soldiers to protect their businesses? Did the Guard have the right to use the Eastside Food Co-op's parking lot as a staging area, even when customers and staff said they did not want them there?
A spokesperson for the Minnesota National Guard did not respond to requests for comment.
In St. Paul, labor representatives were baffled Wednesday when photos of the National Guard in their meeting hall and parking lot started circulating.
A group of about 25 union members gathered at the St. Paul Labor Center and started chanting for the more than a dozen armored vehicles to leave, said Cliff Willmeng, a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association's board of directors.
After about an hour of conversation, the Guard members packed up and moved elsewhere. Walz and others have condemned such treatment of the Guard, which the governor said consists of regular Minnesotans working as teachers, health care workers and business owners — a mantra he repeated during an interview with WCCO on Sunday morning after shots were fired at two soldiers in Minneapolis' Jordan neighborhood.
Walz, who served in the National Guard for 24 years, said officials are attempting to "strike a proper balance" by protecting citizens' rights to peacefully protest and ensuring those protests don't evolve into situations that put people or property in harm's way. The governor said law enforcement agencies from Ohio and Nebraska also have been called to bolster security throughout the Twin Cities.
He acknowledged that the presence of officers and the Guard is causing trauma to some Minnesotans, particularly Black residents, and he said he supports calls for policy changes to address racial inequalities in the state.
"We can't pass those things if we are in chaos and crisis and our buildings are burning," Walz said.
Many have compared the heavily monitored streets of the Twin Cities to military occupations in foreign countries. Tea Rozman's daily drive down Lake Street in south Minneapolis now brings her past dozens of beige-colored trucks, creating a scene jarringly reminiscent of her time working in Bosnia following war in the 1990s.
"There the country was at war with another country," said Rozman, who immigrated to the United States from what is now Slovenia. "Here there's a lot of internal conflict. I'd say even more than other places in the world."
As the sun set Thursday, Jill Boschwitz offered candy bars to the Guard members stationed in the parking lot near the Uptown store where she works. Their presence made her feel "antsy and thankful," she said.
"It's a little disconcerting that they think we need this," she said. "I just don't want anyone to get hurt."
Jacob Wolldeyohannes, who works at a tobacco store in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood, said he hasn't watched much of the Chauvin trial. He thinks the former police officer is guilty, and he hopes the jury agrees.
"It's just stressful to think about," the 20-year-old said.
But in the last week, he added, it's been harder to avoid dwelling on the case and all the issues it raises. Whenever he sees a green military truck rolling down I-94, he's reminded that the Twin Cities are simmering as the world waits for a historic verdict.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.