Minneapolis, MN – Two weeks before a planned national week of action in Atlanta against ‘Cop City’ and a week before slated construction is about to begin in the demolition of the Roof Depot EPA Superfund site in Minneapolis, a protest in East Phillips brought the struggles together. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, an occupation was started at the Roof Depot in the morning and was evicted by a large police operation in the evening.
Over 100 people gathered at 28th Street S. and Longfellow Avenue S. on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 19. Just mere feet away from the “arsenic triangle” and the site where the city plans to expand their Hiawatha Public Works facility by demolishing buildings sitting atop decades of arsenic pollution.
For years, the site has been a contentious issue, and the city’s new plan goes against the wishes of many living in the diverse East Phillips community. Residents are fearful of the toxic impacts on their health and the health of future generations.
THE ARSENIC TRIANGLE: The former CMC Heartland Partners Lite Yard site is located in the Hiawatha industrial corridor on the eastern edge of the Phillips neighborhood in south Minneapolis. The site was used from 1938 – 1963 to produce and store arsenic-based pesticides. Contamination was discovered in 1994 during reconstruction of Hiawatha Avenue. High levels of arsenic were found in soil on the site and in the groundwater underneath the site. Clean up of the site was completed in 2005 and it has since been redeveloped as an office building. – MN Dept. of Health
The East Phillips community is in the Phillips neighborhood in South Minneapolis, one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Minnesota with over 20,000 residents from various backgrounds. The area stretches from south of downtown at I-94 south to Lake St. and I-35 east to Hiawatha. East Phillips is home to Little Earth, a housing complex of nearly 1,000 residents from 38 different Indigenous Tribal Affiliations.
Rachel Thunder, a member of the American Indian Movement and East Phillips community, said that in the last several months she started learning about what she called the “urban environmental injustice” that the East Phillips neighborhood has been a victim of. “It’s nothing new” she said, it has just taken a different form.
“The same cultural genocide has been happening for over 530 years since the beginning of colonization. It’s taken different shapes and different forms and this is today’s form. This is today’s fight.”Rachel Thunder
CJ, an organizer with the Climate Justice Committee, brought together the clear cutting of the Atlanta Forest, the Roof Depot demolition plan, the disastrous train wreck in Ohio and the HERC incinerator in North Minneapolis — noting that in each of those projects and events, the corporations or the authorities financially benefit while community members suffer.
“They don’t give a fuck about us! The same assholes that want to clear cut a forest in Atlanta so that cops can get more training to kill people, so that corporations can make more money. The same assholes that want to tear this down so they can sell the lot on Hennepin Avenue where they could do the same shit while hurting fewer people, while not throwing arsenic into the air! The same assholes who derailed a train in East Palestine and started polluting their community! They don’t give a fuck about us!”CJ, an organizer for the Climate Justice Committee
After several years of back and forth with the community and the city, last year the Minneapolis City Council passed motions to cancel the project, but they were vetoed by Mayor Jacob Frey. Last month on Jan. 26, the council narrowly passed a revised plan to demolish the site, which is now tentatively slated for demolition to begin on Feb. 27.
Thunder said to expect direct actions at the site. “Here over this next week leading up to their scheduled demolition, you’re gonna see us and you’re gonna know in our words and our thoughts and our prayers and our songs, that we’re not gonna back down. We’re gonna make a stand here.”
One of the main organizations formed out of the years of community resistance to the city’s demolition plans is the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI). Cassie Holmes, an East Phillips resident and board member of EPNI, shared with Unicorn Riot a brief history of the struggle over the Roof Depot site. Holmes said she felt directly betrayed by Mayor Frey, who had told her face-to-face that he would fight against plans to demolish the site.
Muffin, from the “Weelaunee / Atlanta support society here in Minneapolis” invited the crowd to come to Atlanta from March 4-11 where a week of action has been called for by organizers. “It’s gonna kick ass” they said. There will be a “music festival, activities for kids, there’s gonna be activities in the forest.”
Also speaking during the event was Krystle D’Alencar, an organizer with the Minnesota Environmental Justice Table. She spoke of her group’s organizing efforts against the HERC incinerator in North Minneapolis and related it to the struggle against the Roof Depot demolition, as they’re both highly toxic projects placed in neighborhoods made up of “mostly low-income, working class, and a majority Black and Brown people.”
D’Alencar then spoke about Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán, who was killed by Georgia police on Jan. 18, 2023, during a raid on Atlanta’s South River Forest where forest defenders are attempting to stop the construction of a massive police training facility dubbed ‘Cop City’ by its opponents.
Watch the full live feed from the rally entitled ‘From Minneapolis to Atlanta, Defend the Forest, Defend East Phillips!’ below.
“Underneath the Roof Depot is soil that is filled with arsenic. Arsenic poisoning, according to the CDC, leads to skin lesions, yellowing of the skin, and skin cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer. So, if the city is to demolish Roof Depot, which they plan to, arsenic poisoning would happen to everybody in that neighborhood.”B, Climate Justice Committee
Interview on the History of Minneapolis’ Roof Depot Site
Daniel Schmidt, an organizer with the communications team for the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, provides insight on the history of environmental racism in Minneapolis, including the origin of the arsenic plume that lays dormant underneath the East Phillips Roof Depot site.