Protest turns to party as Third Precinct deal collapses

Activists thought they'd be protesting a a new Third Precinct; instead they celebrated the deal's sudden death.

Activists thought they'd be protesting a a new Third Precinct; instead they celebrated the deal's sudden death. Bryan Frank

Three and a half months after the Minneapolis Police Department Third Precinct burned, about a half-mile from its charred exterior, hundreds gathered in a parking lot on Minnehaha Avenue.

A City Council committee approved a lease for a new, temporary Third Precinct here at 2633 Minnehaha Ave. late last month that would’ve cost the city a reported $4.8 million. The neighborhood pushed back; Wednesday evening’s event was billed as a “Block the Third Precinct Block Party.”

It ended up being a blocked the precinct party; earlier in the day, news broke that, thanks in part to the neighborhood outcry, police wouldn’t move in after all.

“We’re winning, y’all. Give yourselves a round of applause, ‘cause we are,” emcee Robin Wonsley told the assembled crowd. “Because all of y’all did calls—you harassed the mess out of our leaders, of the owner of this lot—we found out this morning that the property owner, Mr. Robert Lothenbach, decided to back out of his lease with the city,”

(A city official told MPR it was Minneapolis that stopped pursuing negotiations with the property owner, while KARE 11 reports that the property owner backed out after the building was vandalized Monday with anti-police graffiti and threats that it would meet the same end as its predecessor.)

Not all of Wednesday’s speakers were so optimistic.

“I felt I was supposed to come in a little celebratory mood, but I don’t feel celebratory,” said Michele Braley of Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice. “We all know we just made one tiny victory, and we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Bryan Frank

Bryan Frank

The atmosphere was largely festive: free food, free zines, free screenprinting. But many organizers and attendees shared the same disappointment and distrust in city leaders, who made this decision without community input or public comment, blocks from the ruins in an already traumatized neighborhood. (Per Braley, “The City Council approached this with the same lack of emotion and matter-of-factness that they might use to announce the reopening of Aldi.”) And all of this just months after the murder of George Floyd, after council members stood in Powderhorn Park and promised to defund the Minneapolis Police Department.

Braley says her organization has been approached about a restorative justice approach to what happened at 38th and Chicago. But a willingness to acknowledge you've done harm and a readiness to make amends are among the baseline requirements for that kind of approach to work. She’s not ready to welcome the Third Precinct back to her community.

“Not at this location, or any others that will soon be considered, we can be sure.” Braley said. “I no longer believe that reform from within [the department] is possible.”

But Braley also talked about white people who have been quick to call 911 or to label unfamiliar POC in their neighborhood as suspicious or untrustworthy. Luckily, Braley said, we don’t have to wait for the powers that be to build a more restorative and resilient city.

Speakers noted a need to start having hard conversations about harm and resolution—to turn to each other, advocate for community and restorative justice, gather resources. Said artist and Reclaim the Block representative Truth Maze: We can choose to invest in housing, mental health care, addiction resources, programming for young people. “All of which the police cannot supply,” he said.

And all of which takes time. For now, it might look like… well, it might look like more evenings that are a lot like this.

“Because this fight ahead, and redefining what public and community safety looks like is going to be long,” said emcee Wonsley. “This, this right here, is what’s going to carry us through. We need to have more of these moments where we’re healing, where we’re in community with each other—to affirm one-another’s lives and existence.”