A shocking report released this week provides an inside look at how state and local leaders responded to May’s Minneapolis riots, the second-most destructive period of local unrest in U.S. history.
The 55-page report is the product of four joint hearings convened by the Minnesota Senate and is based on testimony from witnesses, data practice requests, written testimony, press conferences and news articles.
Throughout July, many of the key players involved in handling the response to the riots testified before a joint meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee and the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
The hearings were called in order to investigate how more than 1,500 Twin Cities businesses were vandalized or destroyed, causing an estimated $500 million in property damage. For context, that’s nearly three times as many businesses as there are in the Mall of America, and all but 11 cities in the state have fewer total businesses. City officials expect it to take at least 10 years to rebuild the business corridors destroyed in the rioting.
But Gov. Tim Walz’s office was telling its staff to be “very careful” about putting “property above people” when making public statements about the riots.
“Having monitored social [media] of other electeds today, we need to be very careful with messaging like this as not to be tone deaf or dismissive … or put property above people,” the governor’s office advised in a message sent to staff during the unrest, according to the report.
The report suggests that a “philosophical conflict” caused Walz and local leaders to think twice before confronting “ideological allies.”
“Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and elected local leaders identified with the causes promoted by the demonstrators, causing them to lose sight of their responsibility to protect the public from criminal acts committed during the riots,” it reads, quoting Walz as saying that an “armed presence on the ground” could be “seen as a catalyst.”
Walz hesitated to activate National Guard
The report describes Walz’s hesitation in activating the Minnesota National Guard, something only the governor has the authority to do. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey made a direct request to Gov. Walz for National Guard assistance at 6:29 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27. The city then sent a written request, drafted by Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) Commander Scott Gerlicher, to the Walz administration at 9:11 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27.
Walz didn’t activate the National Guard until Thursday afternoon and the first round of guardsmen didn’t arrive on the ground until 10:00 p.m. Thursday night, more than 24 hours after the written request was sent, according to testimony from Commander Gerlicher.
“The Minnesota National Guard was not fully mobilized until four days after the first building was burned,” the report says.
The governor also waited until Thursday morning, more than nine hours after receiving a written request, to alert Adjutant General Jon Jensen of Minneapolis’ appeal for help.
“The MPD was overwhelmed beyond our capabilities to effectively control the violence and looting taking place Wednesday, May 27. This was made clear in our written request for the National Guard on the evening of Wednesday, May 27,” Gerlicher said in his testimony.
Meanwhile, the governor’s staff had questions about whether National Guard soldiers participated in “diversity and inclusion training” or had any “experience working with diverse communities.” Walz’s staff also wanted to know if the citizen soldiers would “have weapons,” be in “regular uniform” or “wearing riot gear,” and if they had “de-escalation training.”
Texts between Minneapolis staff said “Walz was hesitating,” a sentiment echoed by Mayor Frey. After activating the National Guard, Walz’s staff said the governor “wants DPS and NG to tweet about the deployment of the state patrol and guard members tonight” because “he’s seeing criticism of not stopping protesters.”
Some of that feedback apparently came from Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who texted Gov. Walz on the night of Friday, May 29 because she “didn’t see State Patrol or NG” present. The Walz administration wanted to “wait for assignments” from Minneapolis leaders before ordering the National Guard to engage, the report says.
The report also notes that the governor “allowed his adult daughter to access confidential information that she then disseminated to the general public and rioters.”
“This unnecessarily put police, Minnesota State Troopers, and the Minnesota National Guard in jeopardy,” it says.
Third Precinct abandoned
Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said it was not until Minneapolis’ Third Precinct fell on the night of Thursday, May 28 that state officials “understood locals were too overwhelmed to handle it themselves,” even though they had already received a request for the National Guard from Mayor Frey.
Commander Gerlicher said the MPD had a plan to defend the Third Precinct, but officers were ordered by Chief Medaria Arradondo “not to use any additional chemical munitions or less lethal projectiles to protect the building.”
“It is well documented that this directive came from the Mayor through the Chief of Police,” said Gerlicher.
According to testimony in the Senate report, officers at the Third Precinct “were so afraid for their lives that they had messages passed along to their families as they thought they would never see loved ones again.”
“Some of those officers even saved bullets for themselves in case they were overrun. Minneapolis police officers believed their department left them to die in the Third Precinct,” the report says.
Other officers said they were “publicly humiliated to serve on a department full of leaders who thought our building was nothing but bricks and mortar,” and felt their “leaders gave up on their home.”
Officers ‘demoralized and dejected’
Approximately two dozen Minneapolis Police officers suffered some type of acute physical injury during the riots, according to the report. Several were severely injured and went to the hospital.
Rioters attempted to harm officers with Molotov cocktails, commercial grade fireworks, bricks, rocks, bottles, paintball guns, homemade projectiles, bottles filled with cement or nails, mortar rounds, and even skinned pig heads.
But the attacks weren’t reserved exclusively for the police. Minneapolis firefighters stopped “responding to arsons and only responded to medical emergencies because they did not feel safe due to being attacked and having their gear stolen,” the report notes.
According to the testimony of three officers, Minneapolis police are now scared to respond to 911 calls out of fear of being killed or accused of using excessive force. At least 100 officers have left the department this year and another 75 are expected to leave, Chief Arradondo said. That’s four-times higher than the average turnover rate, the report states.
Meanwhile, many of the rioters faced no consequences for their actions. More than 80% were released on the scene and not arrested. That doesn’t include rioters who were given verbal warnings. Of the 18% who were arrested, 88% of those cases were never processed by city or county attorneys, meaning about 2% of rioters who were caught and cited actually have cases pending.
“MPD has no plan … especially to arrest anyone,” two of the governor’s staffers said in a text exchange, according to the report.
The situation was so severe that Adjutant General Jensen compared it to his time serving in Iraq, while Gov. Walz said it reminded him of “war-torn parts of Iraq and Somalia.”
“For nearly a week at the end of May, Minnesotans watched in horror each night as Minneapolis descended further into chaos,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a statement.
“They were begging for leadership that took far too long to arrive — an unacceptable reality that must be addressed and fixed. Like anything else in life, the only way to improve is by studying what went wrong and what went right. Senator Newman, Senator Limmer, and their respective committee members did a terrific job, and the recommendations in their committees’ report will help Minnesota avoid similar tragedies in the future.”