Hundreds continue to gather at site of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis
The police department says they will not be altering or decommissioning the memorial; Matt Finn reports from the scene after his interview with the police chief on efforts to defund law enforcement.
Across several blocks in Minneapolis, at the site where George Floyd died in police custody almost six months ago sparking national outrage, roads remain closed.
Mounds of snow have built up around the tents, street art, and bouquets of withered flowers memorializing Floyd's death.
By day, people still come to pay homage. But by night, the neighborhood surrounding the makeshift memorial is a hot zone, police say — a microcosm of a wave of violence gripping the city.
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As dozens of officers leave a police department reeling from funding cuts spurred by racial justice advocates, officials say response times have slowed and violent crimes, including shootings, carjackings, and robberies, have spiked.
In June, the City Council cut the police budget by about $14 million, with Mayor Jacob Frey vowing instead to pour resources into a new public safety program that seeks to provide more mental health outreach and help for vulnerable communities.
But the city of 425,000 is facing an exodus of cops ahead of a threatened complete defunding of police that could impact public safety for years to come.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – JUNE 16: Minneapolis Police Deputy Chief Art Knight speaks with people gathered near a crime scene on June 16, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Police Department has been under increased scrutiny by residents and elected officials after the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said earlier this month that more than a hundred officers have departed the 888-member force — more than twice the average attrition rate.
Some have opted for early retirement, while others have lodged disability claims, citing PTSD triggered by the riots and continuing fallout over Floyd's death under the knee of an officer. Cops leaving the department have expressed concerns about the safety of themselves and their families.
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Faced with a diminished force, Arradondo has had to scrap several initiatives and divisions.
"Everyone is stretched a little more than thin – community outreach and other specialty programs have had to go," one officer said. "And we can't do the investigations we used to."
Lt. Bob Kroll, who heads the city’s police union, has said officers must endure a new tier of danger and “intense scrutiny” since Floyd’s death, making recruitment difficult.
George Floyd Memorial Site, Minneapolis
(Hollie McKay/Fox News)
A police official told Fox News that two classes of cadets were scrapped this year, a loss of around 60 officers in-training.
The mayor has asked the city council to budget three new police academy classes for 2021, but even with about 100 new officers in the pipeline, it will take at least a year for them to be on patrol.
Last week, the council approved spending about $500,000 to hire officers from neighboring law enforcement agencies through the end of the year.
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According to police data, more than 500 people have been shot in Minneapolis this year – twice as many as 2019, while murders are up more than 50%.
So far this year, there have been nearly 5,000 violent crimes, the most in the past five years, the records show.
In September, observers watched in horror as six people viciously beat a man while allegedly trying to steal his cellphone outside a Target store.
Late last month, a 9-year-old boy was shot outside his St. Cloud apartment complex. Last week, a woman was pistol-whipped during a home invasion in the south part of the city.
In August, eight residents from north Minneapolis filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, claiming that the dwindling number of officers was a violation of the city charter.
But despite the problems, activists in some communities see the absence of officers as an opportunity to bring about real change.
Some grassroots groups say they are helping to patrol streets "with compassion and care in mind," committed to providing a model of what communities could look like sans uniformed officers, with greater support for mental health and mediation programs.
George Floyd Memorial Site, Minneapolis (Hollie McKay/Fox News)
Members of one group, The Powderhorn Safety Collective, envision "a new form of community response that calls upon the resources of the neighborhood rather than the police."
"We are neighbors providing support to the community with compassion and care in mind," the group says in its mission statement. "As a collective, we commit to the practices of nonviolence and de-escalation with the end goal of strengthening the social fabric of the neighborhood."
But the Democrat-led city's handling of the Floyd fallout has enraged some conservative state lawmakers.
Republican Rep. Eric Lucero blasted what he called a "failure in leadership" in Minneapolis.
"We absolutely want to hold law enforcement professionals accountable for decisions made, but that is a far cry from the push to defund the police. That has only emboldened the criminals," Lucero told Fox News. "If this is what the city and (people in the city) want, then they should pay for the damages. Why should Minnesota residents living hours away foot the bill?"
Damages vary from destroyed properties to shuttered businesses, with costs estimated as tens of millions of dollars and climbing.
Another state lawmaker, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject, said the health care system has been further taxed by coronavirus amid the extended demonstrations in the throes of the global pandemic. The lawmaker additionally underscored that there has been an exodus of people fleeing the city for rural areas and other states.
The cash-strapped city – enduring a double-whammy with the coronavirus pandemic – is struggling to recover from the riots that left buildings in rubble.
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Some business owners couldn't begin rebuilding over the summer when officials put a halt on issuing demolition permits until the second half of 2020 property taxes were paid.
The typical bill ranged between $35,000 and $100,000 – with large complexes owing upwards of $400,000, according to the Star-Tribune.
After much back-and-forth between business owners and local lawmakers, the maze of red tape and bureaucracy was somewhat eased in August, in response to the upset from embattled business owners.
But Lucero said merchants able to rebuild also face the prospect of skyrocketing insurance premiums, and homeowners may see their property values decline.
"Insurance companies have to make their evaluations on a formula with such criteria as to whether police or fighters can respond promptly, but that is no longer the case in Minneapolis. That means increased insurance rates not only for commercial properties but residential ones, too," he said. "So that means property value will go down, the tax rate decreases, and less tax collection means such things as school districts and education will really suffer."
Others are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.
Ali Barbarawi, whose dental practice was looted and gutted in early June, told Fox News that he decided to begin the rebuilding process quickly, despite limited financial resources and having to spend hundreds of thousands of personal funds.
“There are a lot of challenges around us, and a lot of the patients are afraid to come back to the area,” he said. “Many of the businesses around haven’t received the help they need, and I know many are relocating elsewhere or aren’t coming back at all.”
Police arrested protested who marched with fireworks to Uptown in Minneapolis, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. They were cornered at Painter Park by the police. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP)
Six months after Floyd's tragic death, however, activists pushing for reforms are not satisfied.
"There should have been some urgency for change. There should have been a serious look at what went wrong. None of that has happened," lamented Dave Bicking, who serves on the board of Communities United Against Police Brutality, a Twin Cities-based organization created to "deal with police brutality on an ongoing basis."
"All of the conditions that led to the killing of George Floyd are still in place in Minneapolis. There have been some small reforms that might eventually lead to slight improvements. Even of those, none have come from the Minneapolis City Council," Bicking said.
Council members used the term "defund" in dealing with police, but he said "they have protected the department from across-the-board cuts," in part due to the pandemic.
"The police department has been cut less than just about any other city department. A glaring problem is police violence against peaceful protesters and journalists. Their actions following the killing of George Floyd caused many serious injuries and needlessly escalated the situation while providing no protection to small businesses that were damaged," Bicking said. "We do not see the abolition of the police as a desirable or possible course of action, except in the very long term, and only after radical changes in society – changes which are not within the power of city government."
He also underscored that their members have been excluded from any commissions or panels working on issues related to racial justice.
George Floyd Memorial Site, Minneapolis
(Hollie McKay/Fox News)
In the meantime, there is the potential for even more unrest.
The snow-capped memorial site may soon be re-opened to traffic, potentially sparking another wave of demonstrations. And the four officers charged in Floyd's death are slated to stand trial beginning March 8.
"If the outcome isn't what many have decided it should be, there will be chaos," said Lucero, the state lawmaker. "This is where we need true leadership."
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For Barbarawi, the risk is worth the reward.
"We are one of the few dental offices in south Minneapolis that accepts Medicaid, so my patients are the disabled, the uninsured, and the underprivileged – mostly kids," he said. "I want to continue to serve those people who need it most. I hope for the best, and I pray for the best."
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