I, like my opposition, didn’t enjoy seeing the streets and buildings crumble under a blanket of fire. I didn’t light a single molotov, nor did I loot a single store—I still was welcomed by the wrath of the MPD and SPPD. Being a non-violent photographer did not grant me refuge from the rubber bullets that shattered my camera’s screen and battered my skin, nor did it protect me from the tear gas aimed at my immobile body. It was only after I came home and laid awake on my couch, bloodied and dazed, that I finally understood and sympathized with the riot I had deemed excessive.
The Minneapolis Riots were unexpected but not unfathomable. Minnesota’s very own Philando Castile incident was all too similar, yet the immediate reaction manifested itself in an organized rather than a violent rebellion. The only reasonable explanation for the difference in reaction for two congruent events was that a more potent fatigue had developed over time. Somewhere along the way, protests stopped working—3-5 million Americans stood together during the Women’s March of 2017, yet their collective interests made little to no progress. I had been asked by my friend, curious about what I had seen, why people wanted to go destroy their very own community for the sake of change. The truth was, nobody wanted to watch it burn; the opposition simply had given them no other choice. They wouldn’t listen if the community hadn’t etched their demands in the smoke signals spiraling from the hell-like fires that drowned the city for three nights. I watched the same critics who shamed Kaepernick’s peaceful, harmless protest for being too unreasonable plead with the rioters of Minneapolis to resort to very protests they had mocked. I can say with absolute certainty the city would not have acted with such velocity had America rewarded the efforts of any major protest in the last decade.
I had my moments of doubt. I distinctly remember hearing the screams of an older man, unable to get up, completely submerged in the horrible tear gas cloud formed around him. I saw what looked like children violently punished by various types of explosive “less-lethal” rounds for doing nothing more than being outside. I witnessed journalists freeze in shock as the state patrol approached them with roman-like formations armed with various weapons ready to exhibit their dominance. I had even witnessed the volunteer medics who volunteered to protect all the aforementioned groups have their supplies and tents destroyed by those sworn to serve and protect. Even after all that, I wondered if I was in the wrong.
I was one of the few to receive access to the non-public bodycam footage of Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng at the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis. I left immediately after watching all the footage in its entirety. I could not withstand the feeling of the morbid and tar-like sickness that completely possessed me. All my doubts dissolved. My resolve strengthened. My hatred grew aimlessly. Not only did it take <10 seconds for the officer to draw his weapon, George was clearly vocal about the impending panic attack he was having caused by the surprise; his friends with him vocalized to police he had PTSD from police from an incident where he ended up shot. They completely ignored these clear and rational statements and proceeded to joke amongst one another by going around in a circle guessing what drug must be causing his violent episode; the police did not think this was abnormal. They were not shaken up nor did have the professionalism to resist making light-hearted and jestful remarks while George’s body slowly transitioned into a corpse. He was exterminated.
I understand my biases. I grew up in a predominately Somali section 8 community where the police patrolled daily. Unsure of how I was perceived by the police, I believed in them. They made friends with the children, taking photos with us and giving us police badge stickers—I had accumulated so many stickers from their daily patrols I coated the frame of my bike twice over with their badge. Meanwhile, our elders were terrorized and imprisoned. To be frank I don’t hate the police; I simply recognize our natural dynamic. I know my condition as their prey, I know their place as my predator. I did my best in the city I grew up in. Despite the predatory city presence that lurked under the floorboards I managed to outmaneuver the odds. I became an AP Scholar with Distinction, I received my city’s 2017 Human Rights Award. I volunteered for thousands of hours. I remained politically active. I became the model black refugee. Though, it didn't matter—my accolades never protected me. It didn’t stop the police interrogations I underwent nor the violence I endured by simply being a black man. If my various accomplishments and utmost obedience to the system could not save me, what good was it?
The riots did not have coherent demands because they did not need to. This was not a tale of revenge but rather the unveiling and showcasing of the modern demonstration. The average constituent lost their ability to effectively make their voices heard. No efficient and direct channel exists to enact change. Through their inaction, the powers that be deemed non-violence an inadequate response to violence. It’s up to our legislators to decide if our tears and blood were shed without purpose—Rome was not burned in a day.
All photographs utilized were taken and edited by the author, Abdinasir Nourkadi.