Minneapolis, MN – Dozens of Minneapolis Police cars from all five precincts, including SWAT officers, bike patrol, undercovers and a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter, suppressed a lightly attended protest for Tyre Nichols before it could start.
Nichols, a 29-year-old photographer and father of one, was pulled over, taken out of his car and pepper sprayed, tased and brutally beaten by a slew of Memphis Police officers on Jan. 7, 2023. He succumbed to his injuries three days later. Five of the now-fired officers involved have been charged with second degree murder and several other felonies.
In single-digit temperatures after 9 p.m. on Saturday night two dozen protesters gathered near the Mississippi River at Merriam Street and SE Main Street in the St. Anthony Main district of southeast Minneapolis. Meanwhile, spread across the nearby streets, police amassed themselves in small groupings of squad cars and department vehicles on various side streets and slightly hidden locations.
In a large show of force, at 9:35 p.m., a coordinated procession of heavily armed police drove to the scene with their lights on. The crowd of two dozen protesters started to then walk down the sidewalk as the police slowly drove down the cobblestones of Main Street and flanked the protesters, shining their window-side high beams on them.
After being closely flanked for several blocks, the crowd dispersed after they walked northwest down University Avenue from SE 3rd Ave., disallowing the police vehicles to continue to flank them as it’s a one way.
Swarms of officers continued to flood the neighborhood for the next hours. Nearly every block had a Minneapolis Police car on or around it. Some would park their squads with their lights on, others took up three-fourths of the street with their vehicles next to each other to hold conversations.
Many of the squads were seen with different colored tape across the backs or sides of their police cars, potentially color coding precincts or what their roles were in the operation. Meanwhile, in the sky above the area, a Minnesota State Patrol surveillance helicopter (tail number N119SP) provided real-time video imagery to the police from thousands of feet above for several hours.
Masses of Minneapolis Police continue to heavily patrol St. Anthony Main district of Minneapolis where they earlier swarmed a #TyreNichols protest before it started. Many officers were seen huddling for a brief time at 6th Ave SE and 2nd St SE. Police are on nearly every block.🔼 pic.twitter.com/YKfhR4c5QV— UNICORN RIOT 🦄 mastodon.social/@UnicornRiot 👈 (@UR_Ninja) January 29, 2023
The police intimidation came after a week-long nationwide media blitz reporting on some of the horrific known details of Tyre Nichols’ death and leading directly into a Friday evening body cam reveal that aired nationwide on prime time television.
During the lead up to the prime time release and after, a wave of fear-based messaging from state authorities called for people to remain calm and some state governors, including those in Arkansas and Georgia, activated National Guard units. Local Minneapolis Police fenced up precincts and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF) alert emails were sent around the metro warning of “potential civil unrest.”
Because the public callout flyer for the Minneapolis protest hasn’t been sourced to any particular group, movement, or person, Unicorn Riot spoke with several local activists about the protest both before and after. Some expressed worry that the protest may have been part of a government operation to either entrap people or just add to their surveillance database and others expressed anger at Tyre Nichols’ death and said any call for a protest is legitimate, even if it’s militant and anonymous – many local demos have been organized anonymously, either on social media or not.
While anonymous flyers are nothing new in the contemporary protest scene, another flyer involving New York City drew promotion on Fox News and chuckles for talking about “bring a knife… to free unlawfully detained comrades.”
Police Budgets, Killings Increase
Though Tyre’s death was caused by a majority of Black officers in Tennessee (there was at least one white officer who remains uncharged), it’s the whole institution of policing that is continuing to kill Americans at record setting rates. And Black people account for over a quarter of the killings, according Mapping Police Violence, despite only being 13% of the population.
During the first two years of the Biden Administration, police killings have continued to top each previous year, with last year marking a new record high of 1,186 people killed by police in the U.S. in one year. This follows one of the largest and most widespread protest movements in history spawning from the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis.
Police agencies have obtained large budget increases in many areas across the country, and President Joe Biden has proposed to dramatically increase federal funds going into local police forces. In 2021, a George Floyd Policing Act passed the U.S. House but failed in the Senate, which would have made federal funds more conditional on banning some abusive policing practices. In March 2022, the Biden Administration proposed massive increases to federal funding of local police in the fiscal year 2023 budget including $35 billion to “support law enforcement and crime prevention,” the White House said. (158-page budget PDF here.)
The Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program ran a Cops Hiring Program to direct $156 million of federal money into local police agencies in fiscal year 2022, and the White House called for $12 billion to be put into this program in September. An additional $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2022 was offered for local agencies and other groups via the Department of Homeland Security Urban Areas Security Initiative.
Dan Feidt contributed to this report for Unicorn Riot.