Madeline Clive grabbed a whistle and flashlight as night fell on Minneapolis, stashing her pitchfork nearby, ready for hours of anxiously sitting, watching Lake Street late last week.
After arsonists burned buildings and looters hit stores in the Longfellow neighborhood during protests following the death of George Floyd, she rushed door-to-door plotting nightly patrols. A week later, she was still on alert.
“Let’s protect our block,” said Clive, a petite 64-year-old who’s lived there for three decades. “You’re under assault, but you don’t know from who.”
Bleary residents across Minneapolis — from Little Earth and Longfellow to the North Side — had rushed to help neighbors and formed vigilant citizen patrols to protect their homes, businesses and churches at all hours. They barricaded streets with lawn chairs, strollers and cars. They hid garbage bins from arsonists.
A week out from the height of the violence, a fragile calm is descending as neighbors exhausted from overnight vigils reach for a new normal. It doesn’t take much for the adrenaline to return. A speeding truck. A car without license plates slowly rolling down the block. Cellphones snap photos and alerts go out.
But neighbors, united over phone apps and group texts in the midst of the crisis, hope to pivot this fresh neighborly energy to push for racial justice and police reform.
“There’s an increased feeling of hopefulness that we will get through this, that people will recognize racial injustice,” said Gary Berger, as he sat two blocks south of Lake Street in the night’s stillness with a neighbor and her dog.
A few nights earlier, Berger had been stationed at the corner of his block with neighbors who erected a makeshift roundabout with traffic cones to slow traffic. They reported at least three cars without license plates to police every night, he said. But now, they’re exhausted from sleepless nights and the constant threat of danger.
Nearby in the Powderhorn neighborhood, a group of residents wearing COVID masks gathered under a canopy of trees next to a pop-up herbal clinic and free cups of “Liber-tea.”
“How vigilant should we still be?” organizers asked.
After a week of clearing brush and dousing porches with water to guard against arson, they debated how intense their crime watch should be. One resident argued it’s time to stop peppering passersby with questions and barricading the street — it felt unwelcoming.
“The potential for a stronger community and less police force is real,” said Morgan Kavanagh, a Powderhorn resident who watched her street from her porch until 4:30 a.m. last week.
Jessica Flannigan and her husband, also of Powderhorn, had been using a baby monitor as a makeshift security camera since the unrest began. Now they’re juggling the crime watch with caring for their three children and volunteering to hand out food to those in need.
“No one has had a good night’s sleep since this began,” she said.
‘They’re not done with us’
In Longfellow, about 40 neighbors gathered late last week for one of the many crime watch meetings still taking place each night. They ticked off a plan for the evening: Keep outdoor lights on, don’t put up wood barriers, wear bright green or yellow. At curfew, they blocked the street with sawhorses.
“We know a lot of people haven’t left and we don’t know what their intentions are,” Clive said as a man pointed out a car without license plates. “We know they’re not done with us.”
The heightened vigilance has also led to false alarms. When neighbors were told to look for bottles of gasoline reportedly stashed by troublemakers, someone reported a jug outside a restaurant and at the Riverview Theater; both were just cooking oil. A woman rummaging around was homeless, so Clive drove her to a shelter.
“At some point we just have to stop,” Anne Thompson, 58, an Australian transplant, said before the block voted Thursday night to end patrols and barricades.
As Clive stood with neighbors in an intersection, a woman reminded them why they’re there: a tragedy by another intersection. As the sun set behind pink clouds, they chanted George Floyd’s name in unison.
As armored vehicles rumbled along Lake Street enforcing curfew still in effect last week, a group at Longfellow Market prepared for a long night. The market has been a center of watch groups, guarding the area’s last remaining grocery store.
Jay Kloskowski, in a yellow vest and wearing roller blades, clutched a bottle of Gatorade. “You can’t outrun me in these,” he said of the well-worn blades. “I can get to the corner fast, see the cars before they’re gone.”
During the height of the violence, the store had up to 20 protectors. Paul Vesey, the market’s butcher, said he’s relieved the violence has subsided, but still worries.
“I’d like to have a day when I don’t have to worry if the store will still be here when I get up in the morning, if the store will be on fire,” said Vesey, who works an 11-hour day at the meat counter, goes home for a rest, and then spends several hours on guard.
Some residents fled for cabins or the suburbs during the riots. Melanie Majors, executive director of the Longfellow Community Council, worries some might move altogether.
“I think now we’re feeling vulnerable,” she said of Longfellow, an enclave of businesses and bungalows, where young families seek starter homes and hipsters seek coffeehouses. “It can all be wiped out in three days. I would not be surprised if in the next year you see people leave.”
James Christenson, 51, didn’t sleep for three nights as the riots hit businesses near his home. With the smoke still heavy over his house, he drove to his sister’s farm. “It was really horrible,” he said. “I needed to get away.”
Now he’s sitting on a folding chair on his lawn in the 3100 block of 30th Avenue S. Next to him, an empty chair and an open invite. His role is to listen, he said. So he welcomes anyone walking by to sit down and chat.
“We’re all going to feel some emotion about this, no matter what color our skin is,” he said. “Sitting here and talking with all kinds of people has been a way to release that.”
Andres Perez was among a group of young Latinos watching an artist put finishing touches on a George Floyd mural near his home in the Erickson neighborhood. “We are so close to where things happened,” Perez said. “Even this week, a guy drove by and yelled a racial slur at a black neighbor cutting his lawn.”
But Perez said the neighborhood patrols have had a silver lining: He has met more neighbors in one week than he’d met in seven years as a homeowner on the block. So did Mike Lasota, 41, a Powderhorn resident.
“I knew two people [on my block before last week],” he said. “Now I know 20. We don’t need the police. I think it’s the community keeping us safe.”
Staff writer Mara Klecker contributed to this report.