Shocking images and stories of police brutality were common across the country this weekend. But perhaps the ugliest and most shocking story came out of Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered and civil unrest began.
Militarized police opened fire and overran a first aid station set up by protestors on Saturday night, firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and paint canisters at volunteer medics and the wounded people they were trying to help.
According to a public Facebook post by Matt Allen, volunteers in the first aid station clearly identified themselves as medics and put their hands up as military police approached. Police fired anyway, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into the first aid station at will. Allen was hit “multiple times” as he held his hands up. A man with a severely wounded leg was nearly trampled, and police kept firing as Allen and his fellow medics fled the scene. Those who saw the incident described it as brutal.
“Medics were crying out ‘medic,’ saying there were injured people here,” says Matt Marciniec, a protestor who’s lived in the Twin Cities for nearly a decade.
Marciniec had spent several days collecting medical supplies for protestors and helped rally volunteer medics, nurses, and EMTs to the first aid station set up on West Lake Street at the edge of a Kmart parking lot. Once he’d helped the medics set up with organizers, he left the first aid station to join the front lines of the protest Saturday night. Marciniec described the scene there as peaceful, with demonstrators taking a knee and putting their arms up in solidarity. Before long, however, the protest became violent, as police began launching flash grenades and firing rubber bullets into the crowd. As police pushed forward and moved the protest crowd, they eventually overran the first aid station on West Lake.
“The fact that they still shot rubber bullets to knock out the injured and our medics and the people that were there to assist [in order] to scare us—that’s military strategy,” Marciniec said.
Even amid the chaos across the country, the story quickly went viral on social media. Many pointed out that by firing on wounded citizens and medics trying to help them, the National Guard broke the United Nations’ medical neutrality law and violated the Geneva Convention. Video of a reporter interviewing a nurse began making the rounds, describing similar scenes in a similar area that Marciniec and Allen witnessed; at the time of publishing, we could not confirm whether the nurse interviewed had been in the same first aid station.
“After the medics were knocked out, we were by ourselves, and the people that were protesting out there had no way to get aid if they were injured,” Marciniec said. “The cops ran through, destroyed our [medic station], and I just saw them take off.”
The medics were able to flee to a remote location, bringing some of the wounded protestors along with them. According to Allen’s Facebook post, police continued firing on him and other volunteers until they were out of sight, as well as a couple trying to leave the protest. Police also eventually slashed the tires of the van Allen and others used to escape the scene. The overwhelming force used by Minneapolis police and National Guardsmen was striking; video also began circulating of troops firing paint canisters at people standing on their porch.
Share widely: National guard and MPD sweeping our residential street. Shooting paint canisters at us on our own front porch. Yelling “light em up” #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd #JusticeForGeorge #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/bW48imyt55
— Tanya Kerssen (@tkerssen) May 31, 2020
Marciniec attended organized protests in the city throughout the weekend and says that heavily militarized police, not protestors, instigated violence—including at Minneapolis’ 3rd Police Precinct, which was eventually overrun by demonstrators.
“There were protestors demonstrating outside the 3rd Precinct. Cops came out in full riot gear, and just couldn’t handle the fact that there were people that opposed them, that were mad at them. So they fired upon us,” Marciniec says. “I can tell you that every escalation has been because of police officers.”
Marciniec says Minneapolis remains tense and fearful. He harbors resentment toward Mayor Jacob Frey and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz for attempting to turn public sentiment against protestors. He noted Walz’s tweet late Saturday about restoring order as particularly authoritarian and dystopic, and says he’ll never vote for him or Frey in any election.
“To me, I can’t distinguish that from something I would see from Donald Trump,” Marciniec says. “It was just coded in more polite language. It was an authoritarian way to repress any sort of anger from the people. It was a means of control.”
Even as state officials attempt to reframe public discourse about police brutality and violence, Marciniec and others continue to express solidarity and plead with demonstrators not to be intimidated by violent, aggressive police tactics.
“I know the broader, manufactured narrative is that these are violent protests that have gone too far,” he says. “But we’ve tried every other peaceful means. I stand unequivocally with protestors still.”