Some Minneapolis City Council members on Monday questioned the city's plan to bring in thousands of soldiers and police officers for former officer Derek Chauvin's trial, saying it could inflame tensions in a traumatized community.
"I have been a little bit disappointed with the heavy city and police-only focus of this plan up until today," Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said, adding: "I feel like I haven't really heard ... a plan that affirms the kind of trauma that happened this past summer, and not just from the four officers who killed George Floyd but from the response that happened afterward."
Council members spoke during a public briefing Monday that provided more details of the city's preparations for enlisting law enforcement, firefighters and community groups ahead of the trial in Floyd's death.
They announced, too, that they were backing off a plan to pay "social media influencers" to help with communication, after some expressed doubts about the proposal.
State and city leaders — who blamed each other for failures last year — face a delicate balancing act as they try to mount a coordinated response for Chauvin's trial. Some residents want a large police presence to thwart a repeat of last year's rioting, which played out for days and left 1,500 buildings damaged or destroyed. Others worry the intense law enforcement presence will actually stoke more unrest, particularly if officers use force on people brutalized by police in the past.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham asked Minneapolis police for more detail about what training they have provided officers about the history of racism in policing and about what they will consider a peaceful protest. He said he was particularly concerned about officers coming from outside the city to help.
"Peaceful protests also include Black rage from the ongoing trauma and pain that has been a result of structural and systemic violence, but that kind of emotional expression is very upsetting to Minnesota's sensibilities ... particularly with a negative emotion," Cunningham said.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Minneapolis officers have had conversations in roll-call about the anger underlying protests. Law enforcement will have a unified command center aimed at allowing key leaders to share information more efficiently.
For example, the chief said, if a local activist reaches out to law enforcement to say they're calming down a person expressing anger but not involved in "criminal behavior," they can pass that information along to officers working nearby before the situation escalates.
"We'll be able to have these conversations," Arradondo said.
Council President Lisa Bender shared the concerns raised by Ellison and Cunningham, saying, "I don't think that we can police our way out of police violence."
In a separate news conference Monday, law enforcement leaders defended their approach.
"To those of you who have been concerned or expressed concern about the incredible preventative posture and the resources that will be deployed, we hear you," said Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer. "At the same time we just ask that you remember what it was like in May and June. Remember the property destruction. Remember the violence. Remember the challenges that prevented people from coming and expressing their First Amendment rights."
During the roughly two-and-a-half hour briefing for the council, police outlined a plan to increase security when jury selection begins next Monday, with the largest presence expected when deliberations begin in mid-to late April.
Minneapolis Cmdr. Scott Gerlicher said they plan to have teams, including nearly two-thirds of the roughly 2,000 National Guard troops on hand, focused on protecting commercial corridors that were heavily damaged last year.
They will also form teams to protect fire and EMS crews responding to calls, as well as police precincts. Soldiers and Minnesota State Patrol officers will block roads to protect protesters from traffic, Gerlicher said.
Council members Jeremy Schroeder and Cam Gordon asked about standards for using less-lethal weapons, while Steve Fletcher asked whether officers received training to differentiate between peaceful protesters and extremists seeking to cause havoc.
Council Member Alondra Cano asked police to make a plan for blocking Lake Street in the event of rioting. Cano said residents in her ward didn't feel they had received help quickly enough after Floyd's death.
She also thanked the chief and other city staff for meeting with Spanish-speaking community groups in the run-up to the trial.
"I will say that I have confidence that the Spanish-speaking community on Lake Street is more prepared and certainly obviously more prepared than last year," Cano said.
Also Monday, the city released guidance for when to call 911, hoping to prevent the center from being flooded again. The city plans to boost communication with community groups and partner with multilingual radio stations.
The city also announced that it was scrapping a plan to use "social media influencers" to "share City generated and approved messages" and help dispel rumors.
David Rubedor, director of the city's Neighborhood and Community Relations department, said they hoped partnering with people on social media would allow them to share information about building closures and bus route changes with a larger audience.
Rubedor said, "This was never about trying to persuade or change public opinion about any particular message but more, it was about getting important information out quickly and in an equitable way."
Who to call for help in Minneapolis
911: Emergencies where someone's safety is at risk that require an immediate response from police, firefighters or medics.
(612) 692-8477: Tips to the Minneapolis police about suspicious activity that doesn't require an immediate response. An example would include reporting a fast-moving car without license plates, or spotting something odd in an alley.
(612) 673-2499: Questions for the city from business and commercial property owners about preparations before the trial, operating during the trial and local regulations. Questions can be sent to SmallBusiness@minneapolismn.gov.
311: All other nonemergency concerns.
- Source: City of Minneapolis