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Letter to City Council, Public Works Dept, and Mayor Frey: Public Works and MPD’s destructive and violent removal of a tent encampment near 5th & Lake last Tuesday

Dear Mayor Frey, Council Members, and Mpls Public Works Dept:

Very early in the morning of Tuesday, April 19th, at about 5 AM, a massive city operation began which by 11 AM had destroyed most of the property of about 25 residents of Minneapolis. The People of the encampment made a stable place to live on two city-owned lots, empty for the last 20+ years, located on 5th Avenue South, right off of Lake Street.

Pictures from later parts of this operation, taken from outside police lines, are here: https://share.mayfirst.org/s/sez6gZFjPzE7c5B

From the Minneapolis Police Department, approximately 100 officers, more than 40 police SUVs (from precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), at least 8 bicycle police, SWAT vehicles, and “snatch vans,” were used during the eviction operation. Police officers woke People who were sleeping in their tents, their homes, and gave them 10 minutes to get their belongings and then leave or else be arrested. People who were able to, wheeled what they could salvage in garbage carts.

From the Minneapolis Regulatory Services Department, dozens of Traffic Control agents blocked traffic, including blocking access for elementary school buses to their bus stops and city buses on a major routes during peak hours, AM rush hour, for hours on multiple streets, including East Lake Street, Portland Ave, 4th Avenue South, Clinton Avenue S, 5th Avenue S, East 29th Street, and sections of the Midtown Greenway and their surrounding street entrances.

From the Minneapolis Department of Public Works, dozens of employees with heavy equipment (front loaders, dump trucks, garbage trucks) did the actual, literal trashing of each person’s shelter, possessions, and personal effects. Witnesses reported watching city workers from the Public Works Department use what appeared bulldozers to load People’s tents, tarps, bikes, grills, grill pits, clothes, and more into dump trucks. None of this falls under the department’s stated mission nor the purposes of any division within the Public Works department.

From the Minnesota State Patrol, aircraft tail number N115SP made at least 20 tight loops circling around 5th & Lake, intimidating witnesses and likely using surveillance equipment to harvest cellular phone information, a violation of thousands of people’s 4th Amendment constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Of course, this pales in comparison to the violent seizure and destruction of personal property inflicted on the People who lived on the two city lots since December 2020, for the last 14 months.

No public employees present were willing and able to cite the ordinance or policy authorizing, describe the decision-making process for the eviction however, one public employee did state the eviction was ordered by mayor Jacob Frey, he was identified as the decision-maker in charge of this cruel action.

The weather forecast for the next day was for unusually cold temperatures with high winds, and pouring rain; this forecast unfortunately was correct. Many People were scrambling to find a new place, gather camping supplies and get setup before the weather changed.

A neighbor blocked by police from helping people pack or advocate for themselves asked a police officer if they’re getting housing for everyone. The police officer said “There are social workers there.” It appeared that two social workers, believed to be from Hennepin County, were present, but there is no confirmation they provided transportation, housing, financial assistance, camping supplies or food to anyone. Most People whom supporters were able to reach reported not getting any housing.

There is no evidence any person from any city department was present to help people. One of the few resources the city does extend to unhoused people it displaces, Downtown Community Storage, was not present. But anyway, how can anyone trust the city that routinely destroys their property to hold their stuff?

Police officers aggressively prevented People from getting closer, including many who had done the unpaid work of providing emergency services from People displaced by the city in previous encampment destructions.

Housed neighbors were ordered to stay behind police tape, the yellow criminal tape, which was put up directly at their own yards and the surrounding area. Despite noting that being unhoused is not a crime, and so this was not a crime scene, People were not allowed to leave their yards. Even stepping onto the sidewalk or alley was prohibited by the police in an apparent violation of the neighbors’ rights— one neighbor was pushed in the alley.

Other neighbors were prevented from reaching their homes.

Public Works also caused the block to lose electricity, necessitating Xcel Energy to come and restore it.

People who lived at the encampment but ended up outside the police cordon were not allowed in to rescue critical personal property, including medication and identification.

At least one reporter was also denied access.

At 11am, several people displaced from the destruction of the encampment they had turned from a vacant lot into a home, were on Lake Street with no idea where to go.

Other People from the camp walked down Portland Ave, pulling in black municipal garbage bins, what little they were allowed to salvage. They did not know where they would go. They were upset and disgusted by the city’s treatment of them.

Community members continue to gather evidence, some collected by the Twin Cities Solidarity Network, is here:

https://solidaritynet.work/articles/citys-attacks-unhoused-peoples-encampment-destroys-personal-property-pre-dawn-raid

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We do not need an “encampment policy” in Minneapolis. We need EMPATHIC and ETHICAL approach to provide People living in tent encampments, services to support and provide safe & comfortable housing. And in the meantime, we need to protect People’s basic civil and human rights, whether property-owning or not.

For a start, how about: No city resources may be used to destroy or support the destruction of any person’s shelter or belongings.

“justice then peace,” the words of Mel Reeves

benjamin melançon
jennifer gilreath

P.S. In an attempt to forestall, at Near North camp, similar violence from the city against its most marginalized residents, a community defense breakfast is beginning at 5am, with food at 7am. We had held these at 5th & Lake also, and the first time we were at Near North camp instead, the events detailed above in this e-mail occurred. All council members, staff, and community members are welcome to join the people living on the out-of-the-way empty lot on public, CPED land near 203 Girard Ave N.

We are angry, heartbroken, and profoundly disappointed in our city but we and many, many others am not deterred from standing up for the universal human right to shelter, for the liberty to live and build community, and to support people in achieving the a modicum of economic justice.

Published by Benjamin Melançon

Building web sites with Drupal, to give people a little more power online. Building ways to connect people for planning and coordination, to help win people a lot more power in the real world.

2 thoughts on “Letter to City Council, Public Works Dept, and Mayor Frey: Public Works and MPD’s destructive and violent removal of a tent encampment near 5th & Lake last Tuesday

  1. (passing on this message)

    To Mr. Chavez—

    I am a Minneapolis community member, Ward 9 resident, and encampment supporter writing to you anonymously for my own comfort and security. As someone who has been present at every encampment eviction in the city this year, I want to give you some notes I have in response to today’s city council meeting.

    You asked the question: “Do we have a policy in place to ensure that we can protect people’s belongings so that they aren’t being damaged or thrown away?”

    Saray Garnett-Hochuli responded: “We have a policy and a procedure on site that folks can take their items, and they are stored for a number of weeks. […] So there is a process, and we do assist folks in helping them pack their things, and then we also give them information on where they can come and get it.”

    This is unequivocally false. There have been six attempted evictions by the city or county on encampments this year, five of which were successful. They are:

    26th & Bloomington on 1/13
    North Loop (attempted) on 01/18
    25th & 14th north lot on 1/19
    North Loop on 3/16
    25th & 14th south lot on 3/22
    5th & Lake on 4/19

    Out of all of these, the only one where residents’ left behind items were boxed up and stored was at the 25th & 14th north lot. Interestingly, this eviction was run by Hennepin County Security rather than MPD and public works, as the lot is owned by the county, not the city. All five other evictions, run by MPD and PW, aimed to be as efficient as possible, no matter the cruelty. Yellow trash bags were provided to residents present at south 25th & 14th and at 26th & Bloomington to pack up their items, but anything that was unable to be carried was bulldozed or stolen by a city vehicle. Everything left behind at North Loop and at 5th/Lake was bulldozed. Once the police tape was up at these two larger camps, they would not allow anyone inside—residents, reporters, camp supporters. At both North Loop and 5th/Lake I spoke to residents who had lost everything because they happened not to be home at the random time the city showed up. Today Garnett-Hochuli either outright lied about there being a policy, or she exposed the city for its inability to follow any inkling of a policy they implement.

    At 5th/Lake I asked cops directly why they would not let a resident in who was asking to retrieve their belongings. Over and over again, they either ignored me or repeated, “they’re not letting anyone in.” The cops would not tell us who made this decision. The cops would not tell us why this decision was made. They only stood around, all 120 of them, told us they would not let us in, and threatened arrest on us multiple times for stepping even slightly out of line.

    Even if the policy that Garnett-Hochuli claims exists is followed, it is still an unethical removal of property. As per my attached image that shows the sign left at 25th/14th post-eviction, people’s belongings were only being temporarily stored. Many unhoused people do not have access to phones or email. Many unhoused people have to take entire day trips to travel around the city if they’d like to get their belongings. Retrieving their items is not as easy as just driving over to pick them up, so I have no idea how many people were actually able to recover their possessions that week.

    I do not feel protected or served by my city, and I sure as hell do not see my unhoused neighbors being protected or served. I have yet to see any protection of personal property at a city-sanctioned eviction. I wholeheartedly agree with Garnett-Hochuli that encampments are not the solution to the housing crisis we have, but that means we should tackle the problems that cause encampments to pop up, not the encampments themselves. It is outrageously cruel to punish people for trying to survive in a system that already tosses them into the dirt.

    For these reasons, I do not have much faith that people can work within the system to get the care and support they need. But I will say that having a policy preserving encampment residents’ belongings—not just claiming to have such a policy—would be helpful. Having a policy that forces the city to post notice before they sweep a camp would be even more helpful. I hope you see these policies as necessary to fight for, and I hope my fact-checking will help serve you in this purpose.

    Ben has graciously agreed to be a medium between my anonymity and you, so please reach out to him if you have any questions or would like to see any more photos from me. I have lots of knowledge and media from each eviction I was present at.

    Thank you,
    anonymous

    Like

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