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Minneapolis: Police swarm and arrest Roof Depot defenders

By Charlie Berg

Police raid on encampment at Roof Depot building site.

Minneapolis, MN – At dawn on Tuesday, February 21, a coalition of East Phillips residents and allies, spearheaded by indigenous elders and American Indian Movement (AIM) members from the Little Earth community, began a new phase in their defense of the abandoned Roof Depot building site by directly occupying the area. In a matter of hours, the neighborhood-led group established Camp Nenoocaasi, setting up more than a dozen tents and a supply distribution area. Throughout the day the camp continued to grow.

East Phillips, where the Roof Depot is located, is a heavily indigenous, Black, immigrant and working-class neighborhood – the most diverse in all of Minneapolis. Consequently, East Phillips is also one of the most historically oppressed and environmentally abused neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, having been the site of various industrial manufacturing facilities that regularly dealt in toxic chemicals such as arsenic, which now soaks the soil beneath the Roof Depot and would be kicked up into the air with its demolition.

Upon hearing of the community-led occupation, several other activist groups from across the Twin Cities rapidly mobilized to bring supplies and assist in fortifying the camp against the elements as a historic snowstorm loom over the week’s forecast.

Little Earth residents constructed a tipi, lit a spirit fire, and held ceremonies honoring the land and their people. At a midday press conference, AIM member Rachel Thunder spoke out against the city of Minneapolis’ perpetuation of indigenous genocide and read the list of their demands: “One: Total relocation of the Hiawatha Expansion Project. Two: Hand over control of the Roof Depot site to the indigenous community and community of South Minneapolis. Three: Plan to remove Bituminous Roadways and Smith Foundry. Four: Enact a moratorium of encampment evictions. Five: Provide funding for peer support workers. Six: Invest in pilot programs to provide shelter and services to the houseless community like the former navigation center. Seven: Provide funding for the community’s vision for an indoor urban farm at the Roof Depot site.”

Thunder continued, highlighting the irony of having to hold an occupation on unceded indigenous territory, stating “There is no trespassing on stolen land.”

Around 6 p.m., the Minneapolis Police Department, at the behest of Mayor Jacob Frey, swarmed the site with more than 100 officers, arresting at least eight people, including Rachel Thunder, three Climate Justice Committee (CJC) members, and several Little Earth elders, including Nicole Perez. The police blockaded nearly the entire neighborhood, securing a perimeter multiple blocks in each direction from the Roof Depot, which led to an hours-long standoff between activists and the police. Community members pleaded with officers to stop what they were doing, but mostly were given not so much as a facial expression in response – that is, except for the times they shoved their way through the crowd and threatened arrests.

At around 9 p.m. the call was made to disperse on our own terms, with all parties in firm consensus that this fight has only just begun. As this writing, the Climate Justice Committee plans to support ongoing efforts to stop the demolition of Roof Depot and will hold a mass demonstration on the morning of Monday February 27, which is not only the projected demolition date, but marks the 50-year anniversary of the AIM occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.

For regular updates, follow @climatejusticemn, @defendthedepot and @eastphillipsurbanfarm on Instagram.

Charlie Berg is a member of the Climate Justice Committee.

#MinneapolisMN #EnvironmentalJustice