Minneapolis organizers protest environmental harm, corruption, outside mayor’s residence
Minneapolis, MN – On October 27, around 50 activists gathered outside Mayor Jacob Frey's apartment building in Northeast Minneapolis to demand that he take action to stop the demolition of the old Roof Depot building in the East Phillips neighborhood.
The Roof Depot site sits atop a bed of arsenic waste from mid-1900s industry, which would be released into the air by the building's demolition, potentially poisoning countless residents. Under the proposed plan, the site of the demolished Roof Depot would be converted into a maintenance yard and refueling station for the city’s fleet of public works trucks, further worsening the air quality of an already low-income and polluted neighborhood.
Organizers from the Climate Justice Committee (CJC) and the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI), along with activists from groups across the city, gave speeches calling out Frey's inaction as a blatant act of environmental racism, highlighting that East Phillips is home to one of the highest concentrations of Black, indigenous and immigrant residents in the Twin Cities area.
Speakers also included unhoused former residents of an encampment that was recently destroyed by a highly militarized eviction – a joint operation by Mayor Frey, the Minneapolis Police Department, and notably, Minneapolis Public Works, whose trucks would occupy the former Roof Depot site.
Attendees of the protest outside the mayor’s apartment dressed in hazmat suits to signify the pollution the East Phillips neighborhood will face if the building is demolished and replaced by a heavy-traffic maintenance yard. Passing cars honked in support of the rally.
In a press release from the CJC, member Whitney Wildman stressed that this planned demolition comes “despite consistent neighborhood opposition and despite the city having no plan to contain the cloud of arsenic that would poison the entire area,” adding further that staggering numbers of East Phillips residents “already have asthma as a direct result of the pollution in the area,” and that the relocation of the public works facility would only worsen this highly racialized public health crisis.
This protest also comes at a time when Mayor Jacob Frey and others in the city government are under significant pressure as several close associates of theirs are embroiled in a sweeping criminal indictment for fraud and embezzlement, stealing as much as $250 million taxpayer money that were supposed to go toward feeding food-insecure children during the pandemic. Speeches at the protest aimed to demonstrate the connection between this corruption scandal and the issue at hand in East Phillips, emphasizing that many of these thieves are not only friends of the mayor’s, but are also among the most outspoken proponents of demolishing the Roof Depot.
Some demonstrators painted a picture of an even more direct connection to this scandal, pointing out that some of those implicated in the scandal are property developers and landlords who likely have a personal interest in the current site of the Public Works yard, which is currently located in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. In their press release, CJC member B Becker put this in stark terms: “These very same racketeers, Frey’s developer cronies, are pushing for this new refueling station because they want the prime real estate that would be vacated in Marcy-Holmes. As if stealing food out of kids’ mouths wasn’t enough, they now plan to steal the air from their lungs.”