I was on the Iron Range beneath towering birch trees when the protests about George Floyd’s murder began in south Minneapolis. Friends called when the fires started Wednesday evening.
I returned home to north Minneapolis a few days later. Cub Foods and other businesses near me — including The Fade Factory, a popular African American-owned barbershop — had been vandalized or burned. On top of the horrific murder of George Floyd, it was devastating to lose a grocery store in the north Minneapolis food desert and businesses owned by people of color.
The media coverage I saw focused on damage to businesses in south Minneapolis and St. Paul. Less reported was that over the next few evenings, north Minneapolis neighborhood watch groups prevented other buildings from being torched. One local convenience store owner said he defended his store multiple times in one night, and that all the attackers were white males.
Some have attributed many of these attacks to the “boogaloo” movement, an anti-government fringe group of pro-gun militia activists, who overlap with white supremacists and anarchists, and want violent uprising to spur a civil war. Their targets include law enforcement.
My North Minneapolis neighbors shifted into profiling white men. Facebook posts were filled with descriptions such as: “Three white males with guns driving a red Ford Ranger sped down Thomas.” “One unknown white male in khaki shorts and white t-shirt acting suspicious in parking lot at 44th and Penn.”
I sat on my second-story back porch until late, night after night, listening to gunfire and other noises. An African American neighbor’s house was pierced with multiple bullets; she has a young son. On May 29, an African American woman was murdered in North Minneapolis.
The bulging seams of racism, colonialism, white supremacy, poverty, and sexism had burst. Like other parts of Minneapolis, residents were left to fend for ourselves. We were under attack. Reports increased from my neighbors of unknown white men leaving in alleys bricks covered in cloth and tied together with ropes, and of those attempting to burn down a community center and more Black-owned businesses. Molotov cocktails and other accelerants were found propped up against fences and in alleys.
My neighbor told me that those with rainbow flags might be next. The suggestion from authorities, she said— nodding at my flag billowing in the wind — was to remove the flags for safety reasons.
In my driveway, I found a hand-drawn board game with “Are You Lucky?” written in the middle. The edges were similar to Monopoly, with a mini chocolate donut sitting on a corner square. When I tried to kick it into the street, I saw a dead rat lying next to it.
As a Native woman who works to expose the rape of women, by police and others, my first thought was: “Is this a random scare tactic, or a way that white male extremist groups are marking houses? Am I being targeted?”
It was hard to say who was doing what. White supremacists and others seemed to be using peaceful protests against racism as a cover in order to create chaos and fear.
I decided to go back to the woods. The morning I was to leave for northern Minnesota, I headed out for a short run. I cut west at the end of my block and nearly ran into a tall, lithe, bald white man in jeans and a grey t-shirt with a gold and red design on the back. He carried a red bag with what looked like yellow duct tape wrapped around it. The bag looked heavy, like it held a bowling ball.
In his right hand he carried what looked like a large canister of bear mace. (I have some, so that’s my reference point.) He turned down my alley. I stopped behind some brush so I could watch him. He reached my neighbor’s garbage can and stared at it. He glanced around, saw me watching him, and took off. The same thing happened again at a different location.
I was worried he was going to try to harm my neighbors — Black, Hmong, Somali, Jewish, Evangelical, Muslim, white, Native.
I was conflicted. I don’t want to cause difficulties for anyone. My grandmother, who was Native and white, was forced by her white husband to pick through garbage for tin cans. I do not harass people who go through other people’s garbage. I decided not to call the police and to resume my run. I warned neighbors who were sitting on their porch.
Then the white man raced by on a bicycle. That angered me, so I ran back into my house and called in his description. I canceled my trip to the woods. If my block was going to be targeted by this man and his friends, I was going to stay to protect my neighbors.
My perception of white neighbors, from conversations and Facebook posts, is that they were experiencing, to a degree and for a couple of weeks, a taste of the fear and terror that Indigenous, people of color, Jews, and Muslims in the U.S. have lived with for hundreds of years. What remains to be seen is how long a sense of cross-racial and religious comaraderie will last, and what white people are willing to do to dismantle centuries-long systems of white male supremacy.
What hangs in the balance is whether our community will continue to burn, or whether we will remake ourselves into the city of justice we have long claimed to be.
Chris Stark is a Native writer, lesbian, and organizer. Her first novel, “Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation,” was a Lambda Finalist. She has written and conducted research about violence against Native women and others for over 30 years. She is a member of the Minnesota Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.