The neighborhood’s last grocery store, encircled by National Guard troops and vehicles, was open for business.
“They protect everything,” said Hamza Wadi, taking a break from work in the bright, orderly aisles of the Cedar Food & Grill, a tiny grocery and deli a mile from the charred remains of Minneapolis’ Third Police Precinct. “Everything is OK. Our people, they are feeling good.”
Outside, a group of black teenagers relaxed on folding chairs and bikes, chatting with the guardsmen. For days, they said, the neighborhood had defended Cedar Food and itself, piling barricades across E. 26th Street, chasing off anyone looking for trouble.
“I feel like people see these guys with big guns and think they’re bad people, or they’re not really here to help, or we’re going to get shot by them,” said an 18-year-old named Talon. “But they’re from Minnesota. The National Guard. They’re here to help.”
The Phillips neighborhood needed the help after long days and longer nights of flames and violence.
“Before, when it was just people from the community doing roadblocks and stuff like that, it was people pulling up and just shooting, just randomly, when there were kids out,” Talon said. Since the Guard took up position, encircling the shop with military vehicles and heavily armed troops, “there has been none of that.”
Some people pass by and swear at the military, he said, “But I feel like the only way things [are] going to change is if people come together. ... Try to keep things as peaceful as possible.”
During the long nights helping out on the neighborhood roadblock, Talon said, strangers would come by, trying to start fights or set fire to nearby homes. Then police would arrive and tear gas everyone — including the neighborhood patrol.
The guardsmen and women held their position, chatting with neighbors as they came in to shop, waving at passing cars that honked and called out their thanks.
People who approach are met with a smile, rather than tear gas. If you’ve been anywhere near a police line in the past week, you know what a refreshing change of pace that is.
Minneapolis is so tired. Tired after a week of fear and confusion and loss and heartache. Tired of taking to the streets, crying out yet again against the killing of a black man in custody. Beyond tired of looters and arsonists shattering the grocery stores, pharmacies, post offices.
Minneapolis is tired of smoke and helicopters and loud unidentified bangs in the night and unconfirmed reports on social media.
Did you hear? The tigers escaped from the Minnesota Zoo. They could be loose in your neighborhood right now.
Or maybe it was Como Zoo.
No, all Minnesota’s tigers are accounted for, but did you hear the Klan is marching through the city? Did you hear out-of-state agitators are cruising around in cars with no plates and trunks full of lighter fluid? Did you hear someone found kerosene-soaked timbers in the alley? Did you hear? Did you hear?
“We’ve got kids at home right now and they don’t even want to go out because they’re scared of everything that’s going on,” said Debra Flores, whose children range from 10 years to 6 months old.
She stood in the shade of the Cedar Food awning with her mother, Rebecca Tovar, flanked by National Guard troops. “They’re stuck in their rooms but they don’t want to come out.”
The other night, she said, a neighborhood patrol, armed with bats, chased Flores down during a visit to her mother’s home near 40th and Bloomington.
“I was like, ‘Ladies, can you not see that we live here?’ ” she said. “They came out with their bats and they hit my mom’s car. It was really bad.”
At night, Tovar, fearful of fire and stray bullets, gathers the children and grandchildren into one room in the house so she can watch over them as they sleep.
“I don’t know what the world has come to,” she said. “We all should stand together as one and unite as one.”
Between neighborhood patrols and the police who try to force her out of her car and threaten her with arrest at checkpoints, Flores says she’ll take the National Guard.
“I’d rather have the military out all day,” she said, “than have police out.”