From Minneapolis, a too-common tale of racist, brutal, corrupt policing in America. On the night of May 30, 2020, five days after George Floyd's public execution, with the city under curfew and BLM protests raging, a heavily armed SWAT team of Minneapolis cops in helmets and tactical vests set out in an unmarked, unlit, white van with up to 20 police cars trailing behind them; a SWAT member later likened the van to "the tip of a spear." In the words of a police report, the team was "patrolling" to "control the crowds that were causing severe property damage" in the wake of Floyd's murder. In English, that translated into slowly creeping down a largely quiet street to terrorize random pedestrians, Taliban-like, by shooting them without warning with rubber bullets or 40mm launchers from the van's open sliding door; they also sometimes yelled, "Go home!" In later court testimony, they acknowledged the shootings as "pain compliance"; in later body cam footage, their ugly mood was clear. In the van, Sgt. Andrew Bittell orders his team, "You see a group, call it out. Fuck 'em up, gas 'em, fuck 'em up...The first fuckers we see, we're just hammering 'em with 40s." A cop fires on a small group with, "Gotcha!", followed by laughter, a fist bump and "Good hit, buddy." Another cop does Elmer Fudd: "Be vewwy, vewwy quiet! We're hunting activists!" Heading toward a group in front of a Stop-N-Shop gas station, Bittell tells the unit, "Let 'em have it boys, let 'em have it...Right there, get 'em, get 'em, get 'em, hit 'em, hit 'em!" It turns out they shot the gas station owner and his relatives who were guarding the station from looting; also shot was a Vice News reporter who had his hands in the air holding his press card; a SWAT member pushed him to the ground as another pepper-sprayed him in the face. Still, Cmdr. Bruce Folkens urged them on: "You guys are out hunting people now and it's just a nice change of tempo. Fuck these people."
About an hour later, three blocks to the west, they opened their van door and began firing at a small group of people in a parking lot at 14th Ave. Jaleel Stallings, 29, a black St. Paul truck driver and army veteran, was there with three friends for the third night of protests; they were trying to decide what to do when someone came running down the street yelling, "They're shooting! They're shooting!" Stallings, thinking of Gov. Tim Walz' earlier warning that white supremacists were roaming the city looking for trouble, turned to get into his pickup as the van appeared; he heard a pop, his chest "felt like it was on fire," and he thought he'd been shot with bullets and was bleeding out. When another cop hit the side of his truck, Stallings' military training kicked in; with his pistol, for which he had a permit, he fired three rounds, aiming low toward the front of the van and hitting nobody. The SWAT team leapt out of the van yelling "Shots fired!' and Stallings, realizing they were police, swiftly dropped his gun and lay face down on the ground. Video shows Bittell and Officer Justin Stetson lunging for him already prone on the ground as they hysterically scream "Get down!" "Hands up!" and "You fucking piece of shit!" as they punch and kick him in the head, chest, back and stomach; Stallings repeatedly yells, "I'm trying, sir!" and "Listen, listen sir!" Handcuffed, he is eventually pulled to a sitting position, bloodied and dazed; later, it was found the attack fractured his eye socket. In the fantastical police report, Stallings "stepped out" from behind his truck, "walked toward" police, and crouched "as if to pick up something" when they fired; he fired several shots, "narrowly missing them," "quickly ran away," and was handcuffed "after a struggle." Because, America, he was arrested and charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, one count of second-degree assault, and three other charges that could have given him a near-lifetime behind bars.
In his jury trial this July, Stallings claimed self-defense; bravely, he had earlier rejected a plea deal from prosecutors that included an almost 13-year prison term. The prosecution called several SWAT team members to testify; the defense, led by St. Paul attorney Eric Rice, called only Stallings. The case had already prompted a Change.org petition and multiple headlines, especially after the Minnesota Freedom Fund helped bail out Stallings, who had no criminal record, and Trump's War Room ranted that the Biden campaign had donated to help free "a would-be cop killer." Even before the trial, enough slimy evidence of police misconduct had leaked that in his pre-trial order, Judge William Koch was politely critical: "While the court recognizes there can be appropriate bravado to support colleagues 'going into battle'...it is not too much to expect those in leadership positions to know the proper way to motivate and support their officers without inciting them to inappropriate behavior toward the public they serve...Citizens would hope, and should expect, (police) would show more discretion (before) firing 40mm launchers." But it was really police body cam footage unveiled by defence attorney Eric Rice, after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freemanlost his battle to keep it under wraps, that turned the righteous tide - the SWAT team's mindless shooting, brutal beating of Stalling, gleeful talk of "hunting," and egregiously racist asides like assuming groups of white people weren't looting and Stallings' labored breathing was due to "probable narcotics use." After five days, a Hennepin County jury - in a rare win for justice - acquitted Stallings of all charges. Since the trial ended, Rice has released more body cam videos, each more damning than the last, with the most recent on Tuesday.
The evidence of yet more atrocities by Minneapolis police - who still face multiple lawsuits from activists and journalists who suffered serious injuries during the BLM protests - comes weeks before voters consider a ballot initiative to replace a long-toxic Police Department in the city charter with a new Department of Public Safety offering a "comprehensive public health approach to safety." The movement for change under the "Yes 4 Minneapolis" banner began shortly after George Floyd's murder, with over 30 local groups gathering twice as many signatures as needed to get the measure on the November ballot. Under the rubric of "fighting the roots of violence" and the "historical pain" ignited by Floyd's murder, says one activist, "We made the decision that what we knew as public safety - the police right now, the only option we have - was unacceptable." The new department would include licensed police officers "if necessary," with the City Council creating the rest from scratch. While it's supported by the council, it's opposed by Mayor Jacob Frey, who is facing 16 challengers running to replace him and who was blasted this week for calling the latest body cam revelations of police abuses from the Stallings case "galling." From City Council President Lisa Bender: "Also galling is spending the last year sweeping this violent behavior under the rug, disciplining zero officers, carrying water for the Police Federation" and blocking the City Council's work to create a "more resilient, less violent safety system." Stallings, meanwhile, is said to be considering further legal action. To date, no police officers have been disciplined, never mind charged, for their actions.