Daily Reformer: Leadership vacuum

The morning after looting and fires broke out across the city. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Good morning. Sign up for our daily newsletter here. 

An old friend from afar was frantically texting me last night about the situation here, and closed with this: “I look forward to your words tomorrow.” 

It’s a challenge I’m not certain I can meet. 

A police precinct was abandoned and razed by a jeering crowd. The fire chief went on CNN, where he had to be informed by a flummoxed host that a police building in his city was ablaze. 

The state’s chief law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities — local, state and federal — all appeared. And good God was that unhelpful.

No news to report, they said. But then Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman threw everyone into a panic when he said “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge” against the officer who ground his knee into George Floyd’s neck while he begged for his life, all on video.  

As the fires and looting spread to St. Paul in broad daylight, police in the smaller twin city decided they could save the Target (of course!) but not the other businesses in the Midway, and something like 170 of them were burned or damaged as the fury swept east. 

Around this time, I could smell the smoke from my neighborhood near St. Paul Cathedral. This would have been right around when Minneapolis Police were busy formulating their non-plan to just let it burn. 

Speeding out of a mostly peaceful downtown march, a Minneapolis officer thought it might be fun to spray some mace out his driver’s side window at a crowd that included a filming journalist. Oh well, he knows there’s no consequences.  

The mayor looked like a little boy who’d lost the Little League World Series. And what better time to go on Rachel Maddow than when your city is being ruined. He held a 1:30 a.m. news conference because, sure, that’s when we all needed to hear from him. The reviews are in: One of the “strangest, most rattled, evasive, and unclear news conferences I’ve seen,” said a reporter on hand.  

The governor? Where was he? Surely from the residence he could smell the fires and hear the screaming sirens, but other than activating a handful of National Guard via press release, he was silent. 

If only there were time to have a task force with some stakeholders and come to consensus about empowering community partners and being seen and living our truth

Into the silence, of course, stepped the great blubbering, orange viperous president, who promised to bring order to the city with extrajudicial killings. Remember the time a couple years ago when he encouraged police brutality: “Please don’t be too nice. When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, ‘Don’t hit their head’ and they just killed somebody, ‘Don’t hit their head.’ I said ‘You can take the hand away, ok?’” 

We are learning this week about the atavism of the human psyche — how quickly the sheen of civilization can be stripped away, leaving nothing but raw, primal urge that can turn violent in an instant. That’s what drove Derrick Chauvin’s knee into George Floyd’s neck. The looters and arsonists followed suit. 

I prefer civilization. But it’s difficult and fragile. It requires character and courage and love and leaders. We have not lived up to its mandate.  

Correspond: [email protected] 

Stay safe. JPC