The collapse of civic leadership in Minneapolis in the riots didn’t just get limited to Mayor Jacob Frey or the city council. Now that the aftermath of the violence and arsons have been tallied, with more than 700 buildings in the city either damaged or destroyed, firefighters wondered why their chief didn’t start ringing alarms immediately. While the St. Paul Fire Department leadership called all hands on deck, the firefighters across the river accuse Chief John Fruetel of sitting on his hands:
Firefighters within the Minneapolis Fire Department are criticizing their leaders’ response in the nights of unrest following the killing of George Floyd, challenging the fire chief who did not call in major reinforcements as gas stations, post offices and businesses burned across the city.
Chief John Fruetel relied on mobile units of firefighting crews and increased staff by about 10 during the height of the unrest. He did not follow St. Paul’s example in calling in more off-duty firefighters and, with one exception, did not call surrounding city fire departments for help.
The president of the local firefighters union, Mark Lakosky, said he was dumbfounded by the department’s strategy during its biggest and longest crisis in modern history.
“There were a couple of nights that some engines didn’t run and I know that fires were burning,” Lakosky said this week. “How many buildings have to be on fire before you call people in and start running every rig you got?”
To be fair, there’s more than one difference between St. Paul and Minneapolis. The police in St. Paul didn’t retreat in the same manner, which made it easier to bring in more firefighters and keep flames from spreading. That didn’t mean every building got saved, of course; a Midway pharmacy that had been open for a century got destroyed, for instance.
One has to wonder, too, whether the firefighters union would have been happy to see its members ordered into action while the police retreated. The rioters meant business, and they drove back the fire department when it attempted to salvage the Third Precinct. Fruetel didn’t make these decisions in a vacuum, after all.
However, Freutel’s decisions came of a piece with the decisions made in Minneapolis as a whole — and really, from the state government leadership in Minnesota as well. No one wanted to take political responsibility for establishing order, even though that is the most basic responsibility of government. The leaders far preferred to pander to the rioters rather than deal firmly with them, in the hopes that tearful mea culpas in pressers would impress them enough to get them to go home on their own. Only after a few days of wanton destruction had passed did any of them do their jobs properly — and by then, it was too late for hundreds of businesses and thousands of workers in the city.
Let’s also not forget that the first impulse from leadership at all levels was to blame “outsiders” for the rioting. Now that the feds have unveiled some of the sealed indictments related to the riots, the Star Tribune notes that the riots were “largely home-grown” after all. And not exactly the work of brain surgeons, either (emphasis mine):
In the days after protesters set the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct station ablaze, Bryce Michael Williams trekked across the country with a documentary film crew to join other protests over George Floyd’s killing in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Denver.
Recounting the journey on an Instagram interview show this month, the 26-year-old self-described semiprofessional basketball player and “TikTok influencer” from Staples, Minn., explained that he was there when the Third Precinct caught fire.
“But at night, I participated in the riots at night of course, cause I’m with my people,” Williams told the interviewer. They’re “getting teargassed, of course I’m going to riot too.”
This week, Williams became the latest in a largely homegrown group of people charged in connection with rioting and destruction of buildings that erupted across the Twin Cities after Floyd’s killing by police on May 25.
What in the heck is a “Tik-Tok influencer,” anyway? It sounds like Williams is a legend in his own mind. Williams isn’t the first person caught by the FBI for bragging about his exploits, and he won’t be the last. The Department of Justice disclosed last week that they are digging deep into social media data to find rioters and having significant success with it. That might not snag the ringleaders of these conspiracies to instigate riots, but it will deliver a very harsh disincentive for others to get instigated by them in the future. Or at least a disincentive against bragging about it.
This is just another reminder of the complete collapse of effective leadership in the crisis of the George Floyd homicide, at all levels in the state. It’s that leadership failure which put the Twin Cities at the mercy of geniuses like Bryce Michael Williams, Dylan Shakespeare Robinson, et al. Had they acted with firmness and preparation from the beginning, we might still have those businesses and jobs in place today.