'We have to protect our community: Native Americans launch patrols as protests threaten indigenous buildings

Andrew Buncombe
Native Americans have both prayed and launched defence patrols since death of George Floyd: Getty

Native Americans in Minneapolis have launched night patrols to protect their community, after a number of indigenous business were damaged or destroyed amid several days of protests and destruction.

Community leaders said while their understood the anger and sense of marginalisation that might lead residents – many of them African American – to set fire to buildings such as banks and liquor stores, many said destroying grocery stores and pharmacies merely hurt the community.

On Friday night, as a largely peaceful protest in south Minneapolis descended into acts of destruction, groups of Native American men boarded pick-up trucks and set off to patrol their neighbourhoods.

While city authorities had imposed an 8pm curfew for the city, community leaders said they had been given permission from the office of mayor Jacob Frey to be on the streets in a protective capacity.

Unlike during the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which Korean American business were deliberately targeted because of anger mistrust, it appeared the native-owned locations were not a specific target, but had been damaged as part of the general destruction.

Lisa Bellanger as co-director of the National American Indian Movement (AIM), said the community had a tradition of protesting with African Americans, and had long been part of the civil rights movement.

“The protests started with support for George Floyd’s brutal killing,” said Ms Bellanger. “But they turned violent over night and they lost control of their protests and they turned into riots, with looting and breaking into buildings – some essential places – and many businesses in our community.”

She added: “Over the years there were many different fights issues that we had to stand up and rally against. And so we partnered with African American communities on a local level as well as on a national level.”

Lisa Bellanger said it made no sense to destroy stores and facilities the community relied upon (Andrew Buncombe )

She said the office of Mr Frey had provided the organisation with letters – which she displayed – giving them permission to be present after 8pm in a protective role. (The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to enquiries.)

The comments of Ms Bellanger add to the complexity of the situation in Minneapolis and in other cities as the protests continue to spread. While many support the demonstrations, triggered by the death in police custody of an unarmed African American man, George Floyd, others have said the destruction had gone too far. A number said destroying businesses – especially during the coronavirus pandemic – was hurting the community.

On Saturday, after a fourth day of peaceful protests along with acts of damage and arson in Minneapolis, Minnesota governor Tim Walz claimed uo to 80 per cent of the protesters could be from outside of the area, though he did say how he had made that calculation.

“Our cities of Minneapolis and St Paul are under assault,“ said Mr Walz, claiming the acts of damage were “an organised attempt to destabilise civil society”.

His comments were echoed by Melvin Carter, the African American mayor of the neighbouring city of St Paul, who also did not provide evidence for his remarks. “Those folks who are agitating and inciting are taking advantage of of the pain, of the hurt…that so many of our community members feel,” he said.

Michael Goze, CEO of the Smerican Indian Community Development Corporation, said of the patrols being launched: “We are protecting our community.”