Everything Changed/Nothing Changed: Minneapolis a Year After the Rebellion

kites received the following submission from a group of readers who undertook a social investigation project this summer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This report is drawn from those conversations and interviews, which took place in the time period following the murder of Daunte Wright in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center and the conviction of killer cop Derek Chauvin but before the partial eviction of George Floyd Square and the killing of Winston Smith.

In front of a housing project, a young sister who had participated in the uprising told us that the people were like ants getting together to take down an elephant. Speaking both to the actual events of the rebellion and the larger context of the oppression of Black people and proletarian life in Minneapolis, she told us that the people were out protesting the murder of George Floyd and didn’t want to start fires until they were pushed up against a wall. Once they finally pushed back, they proved to the police that they were more powerful.

The expression “Minnesota nice” describes a passive-aggressive attitude, whereby public politeness conceals private anger and disappointment. In the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the outer appearance—pleasant, progressive, with a dash of stuck-in-the-90s crunchiness—barely conceals the inner reality: cities where Black people are gunned down by the police, gentrification and rising rents are forcing out longtime residents, the homeless are threatened by the police and by vigilante violence, and small businesses struggled to survive the pandemic. As one sister told us,

You’re not surprised. You continue to watch this same brutality across the country. Minneapolis is what we call a performative state. This is one of the wealthiest states, and we suffer the worst disparities. There’s no way we can have the number one education system, ranked number one in the US, and you look at Black and brown communities and you are dead fucking last. You can educate white folks, but these other folks…there’s no fucking chance.

The situation of Black masses, especially Black proletarian masses, is reminiscent of conditions in cities all over the US: on one side, self-styled progressive Democrats in political leadership and hip arts districts for the woke petty-bourgeoisie, and on the other side, Black people driven out of the urban centers, locked in prison, and struggling to get their basic needs met. Yet the inequality in Minneapolis is so extreme as to have been given its own term—“The Minnesota Paradox”—by the economist Samuel Myers, Jr., who defines it as “The simultaneous existence of Minnesota as the best state to live in, but the worst state to live for Blacks.”1

Clarion Call

The Afro-American struggle is not only a struggle waged by the exploited and oppressed Black people for freedom and emancipation, it is also a new clarion call to all the exploited and oppressed people of the United States to fight against the barbarous rule of the monopoly capitalist class.

Mao Zedong, A New Storm Against Imperialism2

In the summer of 2020, for a few days, Minneapolis was the most important place in the world. The audacity of the proletarian youth of Minneapolis, culminating in the burning of the 3rd Police Precinct,was a beautiful sight for anyone with rebellion in their heart. A year later, while everyone had a slightly different story to tell and a different version of events, every individual and group of people we spoke to agreed in one way or another that the uprising was necessary. A comrade on our social investigation team succinctly summed up that “everyone claimed the rebellion.”3

There was an older brother in George Floyd Square who told us about moving to Minneapolis to get away from the racist South only to nearly be killed by the police after being falsely accused of stealing a car. There was a group of middle-aged people smoking weed in a homeless encampment who told us that not all police were bad, but, in this case, they felt they had to join the protests, and that they were necessary. A nonprofit activist giving out free food in George Floyd Square told us that the uprising was traumatic, and yet there was a consensus across the Twin Cities that the police had to be taught a lesson, and especially that the Precinct had to be burned down. A Black proletarian we met in the Cedar-Riverside section lamented that many local stores had been looted or closed during the uprising, making shopping for groceries difficult, but followed up by wishing that the rebels had gone out to the suburbs to target the property of the rich instead.

Notably, among people we spoke with who didn’t fully embrace the rebellion, there was a sense of understanding its necessity. A Somali small business owner (the Twin Cities is home to the largest Somali diaspora in the US), who told us about her generally friendly relationship with the police and
complained of the difficulty keeping her business open during the uprising and the pandemic, ended her interview with us by saying that she sympathized with the reasons behind the uprising. In the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, near the sight of the Daunte Wright killing, our team interviewed a middle-aged Black woman who was an advocate for Black capitalism and Black people investing as a solution to oppression and inequality. She told us that she understood the reasons for the uprising, referencing the famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “A riot is the language of the
unheard.”4

The George Floyd Martyr-Industrial-Complex

Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice.

Nancy Pelosi

He was not [a martyr]; you don’t consciously sign up for that when you’re casually strolling into the store. You can sign up for that, [though]. We’ve seen that with Rosa Parks, with Medgar Evers, with King, when they knew: “Our lives may be cut short for this fight we’re doing. At any point, we may be cut down. We know that.” Malcolm knew that. They knew that’s what they were signing up for: “The moment I began to butt up against the system and call out what it is, there’s a chance that I may die.” George did not sign up for that, at all.

Alisha, a Black woman who runs a farmers market near the former 3rd Precinct

Following the uprising, the Minneapolis city leadership gained national attention when the majority of the members of City Council issued a shocking statement: they would abolish the Minneapolis police department in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Yet the following year, during the trial of Derrick Chauvin, not only were the police not abolished, but the National Guard occupied the city. It was during this National Guard occupation that a routine traffic stop turned into the police execution of Daunte Wright, yet another Black man gunned down for no damn reason at all. While the Daunte Wright killing was the work of local police in Brooklyn Center, it’s more than likely that the presence of the National Guard helped create the atmosphere of impunity. And it’s definitely true that the moment protest broke out after that murder, the National Guard was there to repress protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The National Guard occupation of Minneapolis during the trial of Derek Chauvin.

Comrades on our social investigation team wanted to understand the disconnect between the claims that the Minneapolis Police Department would be abolished, the facts on the ground, and how the masses of people of Minneapolis understood the disconnect. What we found in Minneapolis was a concentrated expression of the phenomenon that has occurred in the last year and a half: unlike during previous periods of unrest (notably the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion), the ruling class has not been trying to dismiss the rebellion as simply a criminal act of looting or rioting, or lock hundreds up with heavy charges. Instead, the politicians, media, corporations, and nonprofits (in short, the ideological state apparatuses) have sought to repackage the protests and uprisings as simply George Floyd’s tragic death causing a racial reckoning and a series of reforms. This is visible in obvious ways, such as massive corporations like Amazon declaring that “Black Lives Matter” (while earning insane profits from a heavily exploited labor force, including many Black proletarians), the revolting sight of devils such as long-trusted ruling-class politician Nancy Pelosi donning Kente cloth and taking a knee in the halls of Congress, and the popularity of books such as Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.

In more subtle ways, however, the uprising has been actively defanged of its real proletarian rebellious character. By declaring it a “Black Lives Matter” movement, the media subtly allows the Black Lives Matter organization and its well compensated leadership to take credit for the spontaneous protests and rebellions and channel their impact into NGO-speak and electoral politics, thus not only severing the rebellious proletarian politics of the uprising, but also literally separating the rebellious proletarians from the leadership, approved and appointed by the bourgeoisie.5 Alisha, describing the disconnect between supposed abolitionists and the Black masses of Minneapolis, explained: “People will talk to one person in the neighborhood, or find one person who’s been elevated as a leader… We have to be careful, because white people choose our leaders, right, like people will decide that ‘Alisha, she’s the leader of the black community,’ and all of a sudden you’ll be like, ‘What the fuck? Hold up.’”

Having stripped away the uprising of its militant proletarian character and appointed a leadership approved by the bourgeoisie (or at least large sections of it), the final act of the counter-revolution was to bury the militant proletarian rebellion and mass protests and to sell the events of last summer back to the masses as simply peaceful protests and “racial reckoning.”6 Central to this project of bourgeois myth-making is the creation of what one of our comrades named “The George Floyd martyr-industrial complex.” Thus, while elements of the police and reactionaries in the media (and the defense at the Derek Chauvin trial) ran the old victim-blaming playbook on George Floyd and his family, there was also a more sophisticated operation at work. For the liberal bourgeoisie and those who wanted to use the uprising to promote their own political careers and petty grifts, it was crucial that the police murder of George Floyd and the resulting uprising be presented as a moment of reckoning with the racist past that ultimately was transformed into a moment of progress against racism. Ideologically, this serves to steer the opposition to police murder and brutality, and other modern-day exemplars of white supremacy, back into the warm embrace of bourgeois politics. Politically, this helped sections of the bourgeoisie and their ideological state apparatuses steer mass outrage towards the election of Joe Biden and other members of the Democratic Party, a Houdini-like achievement given Biden’s own history as a committed upholder of white supremacy and police brutality. Practically, the invention of the George Floyd martyr-industrial complex also ensured a new flow of funding and prestige to NGOs and nonprofit activists.

The clearest expressions of this phenomenon are the naming of the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” (a paltry reform that, in some aspects, would increase funding for the police) by the US Congress as well as the in-person meeting between Joe Biden and the Floyd family and the video message Biden delivered to George Floyd’s funeral. This level of involvement by a US president with the family of a police murder victim would have been unthinkable in previous generations, and serves the purpose of making George Floyd’s death something seemingly exceptional instead of a concentrated expression of white supremacy. Hand in hand with the use of George Floyd’s murder by bourgeois politicians was the cynical and callous embrace of his name and likeness by corporations such as Twitter and Amazon.

A concentrated (and contradictory) expression of this phenomenon and the general process at work around the murder of George Floyd and the resulting uprising is the area of Minneapolis’s Powderhorn Park neighborhood, known as George Floyd Square (GFS). GFS, the series of blocks surrounding the Cup Foods store where George Floyd was killed, served as a hub of protest and activity since the killing and was barricaded from street traffic for a little over a year until June, 2021, when the city removed the barricades that activists had set up to blockade the area from vehicle traffic. Activists posted a sign declaring GFS to be the “Free State of George Floyd” and worked to prevent the police from entering the area. In addition to the memorials to George Floyd, there were murals and other art projects, a garden, and the Speedway gas station that had been burned down during the uprising was renamed “Peoples’ way” and was a hub for free food distribution.

We spoke to two white men who were staffing one of the barricade locations, who told us that GFS had been a target for reactionaries over the past year, including people attempting to walk through with “blue lives matter” flags and one person who attempted to attack the Square with an axe. Activists attempted to maintain the space as a “police-free zone,” and the police seemed to have largely avoided entering that area during the year that the street was barricaded. This seems due to a desire on the part of the police to avoid further confrontation with the people, a deliberate policy of the police standing down to increase crime (more about this below), and the role of city-connected nonprofits, who could serve as intermediaries between the city and GFS, thus maintaining the illusion that the area was somehow “autonomous.”7

Whatever the intentions of the various actors within and without, GFS itself served to reify the George Floyd martyr-industrial complex. George Floyd’s image is placed next to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and John Lewis’s in a bizarre attempt to have a brother who was murdered after leaving a store enter the pantheon of civil rights heroes. Most bizarre is the fact that GFS has become a major tourist destination, and we saw whole families posing for selfies in front of murals. One sister succinctly said, “It’s disgusting, it’s inappropriate. This isn’t honoring, or appropriate, or respectful, or anything like that. I think it’s really creepy to see white people with their little kids and dogs running around. It’s very uncomfortable.” Alisha, quoted above, succinctly told us that people are comfortable acting like tourists in GFS because “People feel that it’s complete. It’s a failure to recognize that there’s three other officers who need to be held accountable. There’s still a fight here. We have Daunte Wright. We have Ma’Khia Bryant.”8

In, perhaps, the most bizarre expression of the George Floyd martyr-industrial complex, Justice For George Floyd joins advertisements for beer, banks, and insurance companies at the Minnesota Twins Target Field.

Contradictions Among the People

In GFS, several people told us that since the uprising, the police had begun to back off of the people; they were less likely to mess with people for small-time things, and that this was overwhelmingly a good thing. Outside of GFS, reactions were much more contradictory. Minneapolis, like a number of other major American cities, has seen an increase in crime since COVID and the uprisings, particularly shootings and other violent crimes like carjackings. Around the time of our investigation, there had been several high-profile incidences of children killed in Minneapolis. Describing the realities of crime in many proletarian neighborhoods, Alisha explained,

These three babies were shot with their families; these are kids being killed within communities. Infighting within poor communities, this is a real thing. Violence is contagious, it’s just like a cold. That’s what we’re seeing: we’re overwhelmed with it all the time, [and] there’s nothing to address it. It’s all systematic. If I kill her, and it’s brown-on-brown crime, it’s the same fucking system as police brutality. It literally is, it’s [just] a different uniform. The same system that pitted the police against Black people in particular, against brown people in particular, is the same system that says her life is not valuable, and I can take it. It’s all white supremacy.

There was much disagreement among the people about the causes of the increase in crime, but many people we spoke to agreed that the police were intentionally slowing down their response times. Some felt that the the protests and rhetoric around defunding the police had reduced police morale. A number of people, however, felt that the police were intentionally slowing down their response times to punish the masses of people who had risen up in the first place. And there’s a real possibility that the police are allowing crime to go up by allowing guns and drugs to come into the city and stirring up gang beefs on purpose.

The Somali small-business owner, an older immigrant women, that we spoke to described having seen an uptick in violent crimes in her neighborhood, including robberies and a recent daytime shooting, making her question how long she could keep her store open. A sister with no love for the police told us, “I don’t want to feel like someone’s going to walk up to me while I’m leaving my house and come up to me and kill me for my fucking car. What we’re dealing with…the masses have that fear now. Before it was relegated to certain parts of the city or certain groups in those cities.”

Not only is it the case in the Twin Cities and other major North American cities that crime is real—i.e., that robbery, random shootings, carjackings, etc. have a real material impact on the masses of people—it’s also true that the impact of those crimes are largely concentrated up in proletarian neighborhoods and largely affect proletarian masses. So when activists simply say “abolish the police” and have no real plan or strategy to replace the police with something meaningful (and no, vague appeals to “community” don’t count), not only are broad numbers of proletarians left out of those conversations, but it’s also laying the groundwork for more reactionary “war on crime” rhetoric to take hold among the masses.

We spoke to a brother who was living in a homeless encampment about the struggles of the homeless over the last year and the response of the city and the police. He described how that group of homeless people had come together as the city put homeless people in empty hotel rooms when the COVID pandemic first hit. After they were kicked out of their hotel rooms, they were staying together in various parks, shunted to more and more dangerous locations. The current location of the encampment was isolated near railroad tracks, not far from a gentrifying neighborhood. While the brother described different groups of people stopping by to drop off food or other supplies, he also described tension with one particular hipster bar nearby that was working with the police to push the homeless out of yet another part of the city (and, he asked incredulously, “What the fuck kind of bar only serves gin?”). He went on to describe the support from the community during one evening when the city was threatening their encampment with eviction, particularly the anarchists militants who came to support the homeless: “I’m chilling with antifa! I figured if Trump hates them, they can’t be all bad.”

When we visited a shopping area with a large proportion of Somalis, we learned more about the contradictions among the people and how different people perceive the police. On one single street, we met a Somali on one side who told us that relations between Somali immigrants and the police used to be bad, particularly with the police harassing Somali youth, until the city established a civic association to foster better relationships and hired several Somali police officers. On the other side of that street, a middle-aged Black man told us that he had several negative interactions with the police, especially in his youth, and that they still harassed him even though he did his best to stay out of trouble. He felt like the police didn’t harass the Somalis as much, that they had their own police force that treated them less harshly. Within these very real contradictions also exists the spark for revolutionaries to fan: a sister told us that she knew of several young Somalis, previously apolitical, who gleefully took part in the rebellion.

The Other Minnesota Paradox

We spoke to three young Black men in a park near GFS. When we asked them whether anything had changed in the way the police treated them since the rebellion, pointing two blocks towards GFS, they told us that “Nothing changed. Maybe over there. Not here. Not for us.” This is, in concentration, another Minnesota paradox: the widespread dissemination of the videotaped killing of George Floyd and the uprising that began in Minneapolis and spread internationally exposed, for millions of people, the rotten white-supremacist core of the United States.9 The uprising delivered the all-too-rare sight of a killer cop going to prison. And there is, in Minneapolis, the beginnings of a revolutionary people, or what could become a revolutionary people were there a revolutionary organization to integrate with them and lead them.

On the other hand, there is no such leadership. Among the masses that we talked to (including people in GFS), not one of them named a single organization that they belong to or felt represented their interests and aspirations. And those three young brothers who told us that nothing had changed are hardly an aberration. There are millions of proletarians who can look at the congressional laws passed, the infographics, and the “Black Lives Matter” yard signs and say “nothing changed.”

Crucially, looking back on the long year that followed the rebellion, we should evaluate that the rise of abolitionist politics—the demand that police be defunded and abolished—and its particular expression in Minneapolis (with the City Council claiming that they would abolish the Minneapolis Police Department) objectively served to hold back the development of emancipatory and revolutionary politics and organization. Describing the advocates of defunding and abolishing, Alisha told us that “This is tied to a larger fight. It’s so systemic. That really become the real disconnect from people. We’re excited about this right now. It’s sexy. Abolish the police/defund the police: it’s sexy, and soon it’s over. ‘Let’s go to our beach house, we gotta get back to our normal life.’” She described the way the politicians acted: “I thought it was terrible… Even when you look at some of those leaders who stood there, they’ve backtracked to say ‘That’s not how we should have done it,’ or ‘Maybe that’s not what we should do; we need to think of a different strategy.’”

The Minneapolis City Council was never going to “abolish” the police, because that is an impossible petty-bourgeois fantasy in a capitalist-imperialist society where white supremacy reigns.10 What was possible (and may come to pass through a ballot measure) is the renaming of the police, the shifting of responsibility to sheriffs or private security, etc. At a time when the bourgeoisie was already promoting its own appointed leadership (namely Black Lives Matter-approved abolitionists, schooled in all the latest nonprofit-speak), the City Council making national headlines by declaring that they would abolish the police smoothly shifted the terms of the debate away from the streets and into the halls of power. Furthermore, this was part of a broader shift away from the demands with mass support (stop killing Black people, justice for George Floyd, put killer cops in prison) to “defund/abolish,” which has become the vogue in academia, nonprofits, and activist circles, and nowhere else (save for Instagram, perhaps). Whether by accident or design, this astute maneuver was a key element in defanging the uprising and creating the everything changed/nothing changed paradox.

A New Storm

Minneapolis is rich with contradictions and ripe for intervention by revolutionaries. We know that many young would-be radicals are fearful of leaving “their own” communities, feel like they have to build relationships with people through first giving them free stuff, and/or would rather hide their true beliefs behind Leftist platitudes or stay in safe silos on the internet. Our short investigation found that none of those rationales for not going to the masses holds any water. Some people didn’t want to speak with us, of course, but most people we simply walked up to and said, “George Floyd,” and the conversations began, and not a single person (including the backwards, including those who didn’t want to speak with us) asked us where we were from or what “community” we belonged to. We had serious engagement with the people as well as real discussion and debate.

What this reveals to us is that the principles outlined in the kites call for social investigation11 were true, and that people in Minneapolis have had a profound experience of collective struggle. We know that Minneapolis now has a home in the hearts of the oppressed all over the world because of its unique role in waging—and sparking nationwide—rebellion in the summer of 2020. We know that the forces of counter-revolution have been on the move since then, especially the ideological state apparatuses with their sugar-coated bullets. The future is unknown. When we asked that sister in front of the housing project what had changed since the uprising, she told us that “The police know we can run things now.”

ENDNOTES

  1. Samuel L. Myers, Jr., “The Minnesota Paradox,” University of Minnesota Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs,
    hmh.umn.edu/research-centers/roy-wilkins-center-human-relations-and-social-justice/minnesota-paradox (accessed
    August 1, 2021).
  2. Mao Zedong, A New Storm Against Imperialism, April 16, 1968.
  3. The question of exactly who started the fires and what the roles of white participants were in the initial hours of the uprising took on a Rashomon-like quality among those we spoke to. We met people convinced that outside white reactionaries or police agents were present, as well as those equally convinced that the white people who joined uprising were anarchists, either misguided or welcome.
  4. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Other America, April 14, 1967.
  5. While here I’m making a largely metaphorical point about the separation of the proletarian content of the uprisings from the petty-bourgeois politics of Black Lives Matter, in the case of Patrisse Cullors, she’s literally separated from the proletariat because one of her houses is in a gated community.
  6. This process has also involved a willful ignorance of the repression directed against the uprisings in different cities in the summer of 2020. Neither social movement organizations nor Leftist media outlets have paid sufficient attention to the number of people killed during the uprisings by police and vigilantes, those left facing criminal charges, or the repression of protests with police brutality and other acts, such as imposition of curfews and shutting down public transportation.
  7. Our criticisms here are attempts to draw lessons from an important wave of struggle, and come from our desire to overthrow this rotten system with revolution and upend white supremacy as part of the revolutionary transformation of society. We respect the right of George Floyd’s family to pursue justice how they see fit, and we have a tremendous amount of love for the rebels of Minneapolis.
  8. Ma’Khia Bryant was a 16-year-old Black girl killed by the police in Columbus, Ohio in April of 2020.
  9. As an aside, the video of the killing of George Floyd, taken by the brave sister Darnella Frazier, absolutely contributed to spreading the righteous outrage and to the conviction of Derek Chauvin. The recent vogue of postmodernist activists saying not to watch and not to share videos of police abuse is fucking insane.
  10. See “Defund, Abolish… But What About Overthrow?” in kites #2 (2020).
  11. “A Call for Communist Social Investigation a Year After the Summer of Rebellion,” kites #4 (2021)