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'There Was No Plan': Minneapolis Police Officers Who Defended the 3rd Precinct Tell Their Story

AP Photo/John Minchillo

The end of May marked the two year anniversary of when George Floyd's murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was caught on a bystander's phone and was uploaded to social media, sparking worldwide outrage. While peaceful protests took place in the Twin Cities, they quickly devolved into riots that lasted for days and resulted in widespread destruction.

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At the forefront of the controversy and the city's response to the riots were the men and women of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), who now had to contend with built up anger that was exploding onto the city streets. Townhall spoke with current and former members of the department to get their thoughts on what unfolded in May 2020 along with what has happened to the city since that turbulent period.

The officers interviewed were part of the defensive force that held off rioters for days at the 3rd Precinct before being order to evacuate on May 28. With the officers out of the building, rioters set fire to the police station in victorious celebration. The 3rd Precinct remains walled off and abandoned to this day. To make matters worse, MPD is experiencing a severe manpower shortage. The department had around 900 officers in 2020. Today, they have around 600 officers.

The interviews have been slightly modified for clarity and to maintain sources' anonymity.

First reaction to the George Floyd video

Officer One: I first saw it thinking this guy is going to die of excited delirium or something similar. And not to sound apathetic about it, but I assumed it was just an excited delirium cause or overdose of some sort and I didn't put a lot of thought into it. I'm like, "Okay, that sucks but it won't affect us too much." I didn't think it would get as big as it did, obviously. I started getting calls from other friends and coworkers out of state asking me about it..."I don't see what the big deal is, like, this guy OD'd." I watched it a few times again and I realized, "Oh sh*t, you know what? I really underestimated the importance of this."

Officer TwoI remember watching it and kind of thinking, "There's got to be more to the story of what's going on," between how it looked on the video to what actually happened because I've seen it so many times where you see passerby footage of an incident and there's oftentimes more to the story. I didn't know Chauvin or any of those guys he was with because they were brand new...I knew Chauvin had been on [the job] for awhile. If I were to break it down to my personal opinion, I think that it was a lack of compassion. I don't think that it was murder in a sense. I think there were more factors to that case than him creating asphyxiation by putting his knee on him but I did think he did lacked compassion. Me personally, I've been in situations where you put the handcuffs on someone, they're your responsibility. Anything medically happens to them, they're your responsibility and that was his failure, it was the fact that he didn't realize that.

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Officer Three: I remember waking up, checking my phone, and I saw it. And the first thing I thought was, "Oh f**k, that's bad! This is going to be a bad one." We had gone through Jamar Clark and all that but it was just like the visceral nature of what happened with George Floyd. I knew it was going to be different.

Officer Four: I was just kind of shocked. The way the department presented it to us, it wasn't anything like that...All we got was a city email saying it was a medical incident. So I didn't look into it. I was like, "Oh, it's not going to be a big deal, I don't know why they're emailing about it." And then when we found out what it actually was, I thought, "Holy sh*t, they undersold and under explained the gravity of the situation."

Defending the 3rd Police Precinct and then having to abandon it

Officer One: Prior to the rioters taking it over, they had a big contingent of us stationed to respond to the 3rd precinct because we heard there were cops stuck in there. They were screaming for help...we were losing our minds because we were like, "Alright, we're going to head over there now." And we were told "no" and I don't remember where that order came from...We're sitting there and there's 40 or 50 of us and we're yelling at our sergeants, "We need to go help them!" Our sergeants were saying, "We know, we know, we know." We could never get any direction or anything from our bosses, the administration, of what to do. Our small contingent finally said screw it, we're going. We formed a caravan, drove down there and chased everybody out and formed a perimeter. The majority of one day before the precinct fell, we were rotating teams of cops working the perimeter because we couldn't stay out there that long. We were constantly getting pelted with stuff. It was a constant barrage of things being thrown at us.

The night of, I remember my shoulder getting tapped and hearing, "Get to your squads, get your teams, we're leaving." And I remember doing a double take saying, "Wait, what? We're leaving, we're getting repositioned?" "No, we're leaving, we're leaving the precinct." It was a holy sh*t moment. It's kind of a blur after that. My other partner from our unit, he was the first car in line to get out of the parking lot and he had to ram the gate because some of the rioters had put a chain and padlock on the gate to lock us in there. We were near the end of the convoy and we could see people along both sides of our convoy to throw stuff at us. My partner and I got out to run interference and we ended up hoofing it on foot back to the rally point where they were picking people up in city buses.

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We could've 100 percent held the precinct...We were getting our supply lines opened up. As long as we had that we absolutely would've held it. We would've had guys take rocks and bricks, I'm not going to lie, there probably would've been injuries on our end but we 100 percent would've held it. I don't doubt that for one minute. The order wasn't received well at all. It was a mixture of anger, it was a mixture of misbelief. We gave up more than a precinct. We gave up authority, we gave up any kind of credibility we had.

Officer Two: It was Tuesday. We marched in columns to the 3rd precinct and the crowd was already massive. It was like being at a rock concert, really the only way I can described it. There was no Jersey barriers. They had these metal fences that don't do anything. Anyone could grab it and throw it and it's gone. Essentially my job as a 40mm operator was to shoot people that were throwing stuff at us. It became extremely difficult because Antifa, Black Lives Matter, whatever the groups out there were way more organized than I ever thought possible. What they would do, on the frontline they would send the peaceful protesters and the people behind them would be throwing the objects. 

What we ended up having to do was guys on either side of me and if someone threw something, I'd tell them mace the crowd in front of us so I could get a shot at the guy who was throwing stuff at us. It was a long day, we'd take breaks inside the precinct and everyone is just defeated and part of it was, I truly believe this, that the higher-ups wanted to punish us for what happened. Why wouldn't you put up Jersey barriers with fences around the precinct after an incident like this? Unless you want the cops to be punished.

Officer Two would go on to sustain an injury from a rioter while defending the 3rd Precinct on May 26 and while it was non-life threatening, they were unable to partake in riot control operations after that night.

Officer Three: There was no plan. The higher-ups didn't know what to do...It was just playing whack-a-mole. Somebody would throw something, they'd get smoked with a 40mm [projectile]. We started dropping tear gas the first night and then the second night, they were getting hit with gas again but there were so many of them. They had that whole Target parking lot across the street, it was a problem. There was no plan to deal with that, our leadership just left that. The rioters had a bigger footprint than we did. They had a bigger staging area than we did. I was shocked when I got back the second day, I would've thought we would had a perimeter pushed out all the way across Lake Street so that we had a little bit more area to work in, but we had no area to work in, that was the biggest problem.

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We were a few blocks away on May 28 as like a quick response team. The 3rd Precinct got on the air screaming the rioters were breaching the front doors. We just went, like we weren't even told to go there, we were just like "Alright, it's go time." We get there and I remember the first thing as I was getting out of the car, I was getting lit up by paintballs. That fence around the precinct was leaning towards us. We were taking some pretty heavy debris and the wind was against us that night. The wind was coming out of the north, we were eating all the tear gas, it wasn't affecting the crowd at all. I remember looking around, I'm like, "We got to get the fence back up." 

We started pulling bike racks out of the ground and we were zip tying the bike racks to the fence to hold it up. Once we finally got that back up I went back inside to pop my mask off to get some fresh air. That's when I found out we were leaving the precinct. I was legit confused, I'm like, "Who's leaving?" "Everybody's leaving." That's when it really started to hit me, "Wait, we were just letting this go?" There had been some rumors, but I didn't think it was actually going to happen. It was a shock. I remember going up to my guys saying, "We're leaving." They were like, "What?" and I said, "They're leaving the precinct. We're all leaving." I mean, they were pissed but until we got out of there, we didn't really have time to think about the gravity of what had happened because it was getting f***king bad. 

I got accountability for all my guys. I made sure everybody was in cars and then I sat down in my squad. Nothing was happening, nobody was moving. There was no direction on where to go from the command post. We needed to go now or we needed get back out to fight these guys because we had about thirty seconds until they're over the fences and then we're f**ked. I had two rifle operators in my car with me. I rolled down all the windows and said get those f**king rifles out the windows because if we need to we're going to have to fight our way out of here. It was like a zombie movie, them coming over the fences. It was bizarre.

After leaving the precinct, I don't think anybody said a word. I remember asking, "Is everybody good, is anybody injured?" and we didn't say a word the rest of the time in the squad.

Officer Four: The weird thing about that was we were the last to know. Everybody else knew but us...The way I found out was State Patrol's SWAT team, they knew, they're like, "Hey, you guys are giving up the precinct." We're like, "Bullsh*t." "No, you're giving up the precinct." Our first line sergeants didn't know. And then the actual lieutenant that was running things didn't know at first.

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We developed strike teams, and then basically our mission was to disrupt some of the agitators and arrest some of these people after two days of being hammered...So we exited the precinct from the south, got in our cars, and driving out and around when they gave the order to give up the precinct...So they played this tone over the radio and they're like, "The precinct has fallen," just this stupid, dramatic announcement over the air. We all thought that was the dumbest thing we ever heard. First of all, it made us super mad they gave it up. Second of all, it's like an achievement for these people because they can hear our radios. Our radios aren't encrypted. 

Impact of the riots and the defund/abolish the police movement

Officer One: I was super proud to be a cop. I've done everything under the sun you could do as a cop. I was super happy. I loved my job. The way this was handled and the politics of it, I'm embarrassed now. I'm ashamed. I feel like I wear a scarlet letter because I was part of this and somehow this was my fault...The way it got painted and the hardest part is because MPD is a fantastic department, it had some amazing cops there. All this did was make the best cops leave, it really did. Not to say there's not good cops left but it made some amazing cops leave and for the wrong reasons. The city broke them and the way this was handled broke them. I have no idea how long I plan on staying. I mean, my wife probably asks me once a month if I would just leave. I can't just leave the department and go somewhere else and go back to square one as a brand new guy. 

What really, really worries me and scares me for the city is because all of this, we're not getting good cops applying. It's scary who we are getting now as our applicants. We don't have a choice. We can't be picky. This is going to be a self-fulling prophecy where suddenly they hire somebody who is subpar and they're going to make another mistake, they're going to do something that makes the news again and we're going to be right back where we started...Nobody wants to be a cop anymore, much less a cop in Minneapolis.

Officer Two: I would say we are seeing the effects of the lack of proactive policing at its most minimum level...The city lost that now. On top of that, they lost the average cop doing a traffic stop...I'm telling you almost zero 9-1-1 cops are doing traffic stops. Because why? Why would put themselves under scrutiny and risk when they're barely hanging onto the job they have now? I'm not saying that cops are lazy but we're seeing what it's like when they're not motivated, when they don't feel backed up to go out there and be a police officer.

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It's also in the courts. It's frustrating when you book someone and think, "Alright, I took a bad guy off the street." You follow that court case, what happens to them? They just get instantly released. We're seeing this with our uptick in carjackings because they're all juveniles. The court system is not doing anything with them, they're releasing them right away and they go out there and do it again...I can't answer that question if it's going to get better.

It's a week-by-week, day-by-day basis if I'm going to stay...When you first start out in this job you have a lot of highs, where you're just like, "Yes, I did something good." But the more you're into, the more it just turns into lows because you see the reality of it where they're not really highs. But for me, it's like what other option do I have. I don't have other skills. I'm tempted to leave, there's been conversations in our household but I don't know what to do.

Officer Three: We realized we ruined policing in this country. What I mean by that I mean is you can see cops getting charged with stuff that we've never seen before with these district attorneys...You hear that word "slowdown" thrown around by politicians that are anti-police, it's not a "slowdown" it's self-preservation. I have a family to take care of, I'm not going to put myself into a position where even if I make the right decision, if someone on the outside perceives it as the wrong decision, I could get charged with a crime and then that is devastating to my family. That's the hardest thing for me because I love my job. I feel like I have made a difference over the course of my career...I've seen so many of my friends leave the job. There's people there in the city who still appreciate us but it's so hard. It ruined people lives, it really did. 

I know there's isn't very much sympathy out there for us because they're just going to say, "Well, you guys did it to yourselves," and f**k Derek Chauvin, in my opinion. I don't know what happened. I don't know if he killed George Floyd. I don't know if George Floyd died of an overdose. I really don't care, but Derek Chauvin should've done something else. He sat there for 8 minutes doing nothing when he should've done something else and he would've been fine. That's what pisses me off and now we have to live with it. I hope he feels bad about it, I don't know if he does. I didn't know the guy. It sucks, it's tough.

There's no chance we'd be able to contain future riots. The changes to our rules of engagement make it almost impossible. The department of humans rights came...they wrote a 70-page report that wouldn't have passed a high school reporting class. I wish somebody would stand up to them but the fact that our rules of engagement in riots have changed so much and they made it so cumbersome, I don't know how you would control it. There's no way you could control with what happened in 2020 now with the amount of people that we have.

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Officer Four: The biggest source of frustration during the riots was that we wanted to go out and arrest these people and take the city back from the people that were causing damage. There were some local people but a lot of people were coming from outside the city because they knew they could cause damage and get away with it...We felt very restricted. We had the people, we had the motivation to go out and arrest people and we were constantly told, "No, stand down, just stand there." It was that constant us being told not go out to and our job that was super frustrating.

Officer Four eventually left MPD after the riots, citing lack of support and regulations becoming burdensome.

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