Minneapolis residents watching their city burn night after night — with minimal intervention from authorities — began gearing up Saturday to take their safety into their own hands.
Online neighborhood groups were peppered with advice about keeping lights on, bringing garbage cans and propane tanks inside, keeping hoses and fire extinguishers at the ready, and staying in touch with other neighbors. Others simply packed up and left town, concerned for the safety of their families.
Maria Kramer was spending the afternoon packing her two cats and her valuables to drop off at a friend’s house in Minnetonka. Then she was going to stop by a firefighter friend’s house to pick up a few extinguishers to give to her neighbors near Chicago Avenue and 43rd Street.
She’s lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and said her neighbors want to “have a fighting chance” at saving the racially and economically diverse area from looters and arsonists. They’ve been trying to coordinate their efforts with supplies, various directives like keeping their lights on and even hosing down the nearby automotive shop.
“It’d be sad to lose [our homes] but it’s not as sad as someone being murdered,” Kramer said. “We don’t value property over people but we want to at least maintain our community as much as possible.”
Travis Brew and his partner left their home in Minneapolis early last night after seeing the news of destructive unrest. Getting out of the city amid the traffic and street closures was hard enough, but they also soon realized they were low on gas. Brew said they endured multiple instances of using Google Maps to find an open gas station, only to find it closed. Now they’re at his partner’s parents’ house near St. Cloud and are debating if and when they go back home.
“Just the overall lack of feeling of safety when I’m out in my garden watering my plants or taking my dog for a walk, or every time I hear a loud bang or see smoke, see burning debris on the street in front of my house, it was just an overall very generally uncomfortable feeling,” Brew said. “When there’s already enough to be concerned about in general going out into the community, going out into the world ... it can become too much for people really quickly.”
In addition to suggestions about garbage cans, hoses and lights, one neighborhood’s safety plan advised residents to prepare by charging phones, wetting lawns and removing heavy lawn ornaments that could be used to break windows. Council Member Andrew Johnson, who represents a ward in the southern half of the city, stressed in an e-mail to residents that they should not conduct neighborhood patrols.
“I do understand that some residents were interested in walking down streets conducting patrols,” Johnson wrote. “To be clear: this is NOT allowed and could be DANGEROUS.”
Trent Witz, who lives in Uptown, hasn’t slept since Monday night amid all the sirens, gunshots, fireworks and yelling near his home. After fire leveled a nearby gas station Friday night, he woke up Saturday with a resolve to protect his property.
“We need to prepare in case something happens,” Witz said. He hooked up his long garden hose, prepared his fire extinguishers, bought extra food and assembled a to-go bag of extra clothes and supplies. He even made copies of his important papers, lest they be destroyed in a fire.
He said it’s particularly scary that emergency personnel aren’t available to respond.
“Fires in the middle of the street and no one’s answering the phone [at 911],” Witz said.
More than 100 residents turned out to a community meeting Saturday morning in the Standish-Ericsson neighborhood of south Minneapolis to discuss preparing their homes for the evening’s events. Jeff Magnuson, who attended, said many of his neighbors were surprised the mayhem continued unabated Friday night — despite the much-touted arrival of the National Guard.
“Now I think people are saying, ‘This seems to be spilling out beyond the commercial area,’ ” Magnuson said, citing several neighborhood gas stations that were destroyed. “We’ve got to organize ourselves and have some kind of idea of how we can best take care of ourselves.”
Shane Suttle and his wife have been holed up in a northwest Wisconsin cabin for several weeks since the coronavirus hit, only stopping back into Minneapolis to pick up supplies to support small businesses in the North Loop area.
But watching the news of the riots and the fires, Suttle said they’re going to stay in the cabin for now. While they wish they could also help with the cleanup and peaceful protests, Suttle said it’s “pretty scary” to think of people being trapped inside burning residential buildings in the area.
“Part of us feels guilty for not being there doing those kinds of things, and then the other side of that is how bad are thing going to get?,” Suttle said. “Is it going to be dangerous? It’s kind of a double-edged sword.”