Apr 4, 2021 • 10M

The Derek Chauvin Trial: Dispatches from Minneapolis

Cops, chefs, activists, financiers

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Nancy Rommelmann
Journo babes Sarah Hepola and Nancy Rommelmann on what's burning through the culture right now
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A week ago tomorrow, I got on a plane Minneapolis, with no brief other than several days before asking my editor at Reason, “Do you want some stuff from Minneapolis if I go?” and her answering, “Totally.” I hit some of you lovely people up for crowd-funding, in exchange for promised extras. Well, sad face…

I will make up for the lack of extras now! Up top, an MP3 of me reading the first dispatch for Reason, two Minneapolis-area police officers talking about what it was like during last year’s mayhem following George Floyd’s death and what they expect to happen should the verdict not be to some people’s satisfaction. Short answer to that: the city burns.

Both are still on the job, though MPD is down nearly 25% in terms of active officers since last year, some quitting the force, others taking early retirement, dozens more on leave for PTSD. Check out this video, which I did not shoot and which shows how nuts it was on the ground in the days after Floyd was killed.

I drove and walked that area several times while I was on the ground. Much of it is still boarded up, empty lots where businesses used to be. But there’s also new construction.

The same cannot be said for the downtown core. In an upcoming piece, I walk with a finance guy through some of the skyways that connect downtown’s big buildings. Where there was once vibrant shopping and so many people — my guide compared it to New York City during the morning rush hour — now there is emptiness. Of the hundreds of stores we passed, all but four were closed for good.

This is not, I was made to understand, solely due to the looting after Floyd’s death, but what preceded it — retail already floundering, COVID — and what followed: In August, a man on the run from police shot himself in the head in the middle of downtown. Word immediately went out that MPD had killed another black man and the area was decimated.

“This is Dayton's, this was Marshall Field’s, this is the largest building on in Minneapolis right here, but it's abandoned now,” said my guide. “Look at all these vacancies; that’s Saks Fifth Avenue, vacant. That was A Sports Authority. This was all robust as shit; this was the center of downtown.”

He also could not be identified. Kaia Hite, on the other hand, was front and center with the activists behind the courthouse and let me not only interview her — that piece is here — but take her picture.

I met someone who is running for city council at the courthouse. I may not run his interview, but do offer the following exchange, which I found pretty shocking:

The city sustained some pretty bad destruction last May.

“It was a lot of raw emotion and energy and people were responding to the loss of life. I definitely think that a building being burned, or a store being looted, these places are insured. These major corporations have tons of money and attorneys that can get that insurance for them. But also you can replace property; you can’t replace a human life.” 

You mention you understand the raw emotion that fuels looting, which itself creates emotions and hardships, maybe even death. Let’s say you win election and have constituents who are afraid. Do you think your perspective on looting would change?

“Life experiences do change people’s perspective, of course. But I think I would still be in sympathy with the people whose lives have been hurt or lost at the hands of law enforcement.”

So it depends in a sense on who’s committing the death.

“Right, right.”

Another perspective I wanted to get, and without sounding reductive, was that of the Native community. My buddy Zane Spang, who I know from when we both lived in Portland, was smart and funny and properly pissed off. Do get a chance to read his take on what’s going on at George Floyd Square, which is less than a mile from his house. A clip:

There's such a weird dynamic when people approach me, as being a Native American. They bad-mouth themselves as to who they are. They feel like they need to make themselves less human to feel accepted by me, a person of color. There's something about that I don't enjoy. It's like, "You don't have anything to prove to me." It's great that you acknowledge stuff but, that's where I feel the conversation needs to keep going, let's talk about other stuff rather than, "Fuck white people."

There was little time, to eat or see anything of the city other than wherever I was reporting and the inside of my hotel room. (That the temperature was in the 20s didn’t help the exploring.) Nellie Bowles, beautiful Nellie, was also in town doing some research and we did manage a dinner out at St. Genevieve, where chef/owner Steve Brown wooed us with champagne before dinner and Madeira afterwards, a bit of sparkle in a sometimes-bleak week.

My last interview was with another restauranteur, one who was ebullient and practical and generous and kind. He and his story will publish later this week, but as an amuse bouche I can tell you, I walked in starving and someone in the kitchen baked me a cookie, which I ate while warm and oozy in this beautiful room…

… which looked nothing like this after the looting of downtown three days after Floyd was killed, when bullets were pumped through the windows and the curtains slashed and every conceivable piece of glass that could break, broken. And look at it now.

You know what it is today? It’s Easter. It’s spring. It’s rebirth. It’s inevitable, may it always be.

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I have been the worst cook for you! I will tonight cook up some grub for Matt Welch — go say happy 5th anniversary to those Fifth Column guys! - and, if he recuperates from vaccine #2 (it can be an ass-kicker) in time, Bill Schulz, watch a little MLB. Mostly I plan on refilling the glasses and watching them yell at their respective hometown teams…

I’ll also duck out a few times for this; if you’re in Clubhouse, pop in, I have it on good authority that Glenn Greenwald will be joining.

Until soon, with love and memories of the baklava I ate at an Upper West Side diner last night at 10:30…