Winston Smith and the Narrative War in Minneapolis

We had a political dissident in Winston Smith. He was an influencer on social media, getting the message out about different tactics than nonviolent protest. You can't have millions of people getting ideas like that, you know what I'm saying?

Transcribed from the 4 July 2021 episode of Pod Damn America and printed with permission. Edited for space, accuracy, and readability. We highly recommend listening to the whole episode, especially since it features the music of Winston Smith:

It’s been a year. The police didn’t stop killing people. The police didn’t stop lying about killing people.

Jake Flores: I looked into a couple of leftist watchdog accounts that keep track of stuff like [police collaborators in Minneapolis]—there are a lot of undercover cops and shit like that out there. I was pointed in the direction of a few people who are foot soldiers in the street resistance against the police. What we’re going to get here is a series of interviews that are a bird’s eye view of the whole thing. We just talked it out organically to get a snapshot of what’s going on.

A lot of this is very important because we are living in the wake of the Winston Smith murder—or, as we will go on to refer to it later, assassination. We’ll explain it in the interviews, but a guy named Winston Smith who was a rapper and a comedian and an organizer was assassinated by a group of US Marshals or some sort of federal task force that doesn’t have to wear body cameras because they’re above the police and they can operate in plainclothes and shoot before even announcing who they are.

This has happened a couple times in recent history and it seems like it happened again in Minneapolis. All the more reason to continue the fight there. But I wanted to know more about it, and there isn’t a whole lot of reporting on this, so we’re talking to street medics and people who are out there protesting in the streets and doing mutual aid.

Anders Lee: May 25 was the anniversary of George Floyd’s death [last year], following which there had been some really big news when the city council in Minneapolis announced they wanted to disband the Minneapolis Police Department. There had been very intensive organizing that was done to put pressure on them—but it has not happened. They voted to disband and they wanted to put that on the ballot for 2020, but the charter commission, which is fifteen members appointed by the county’s chief judge, just rejected it. To do this, you have to fully redo the charter system; there are all these layers of bureaucracy that prevent social change.

Getting the city council on board was a big symbolic move, but last summer it was reported that at Powderhorn Park, councilpeople gave big speeches and said they were going to abolish the police—and then they were overheard talking amongst each other saying, “We just have to rename the MPD, right?” Organizers and activists are very keen to this—there is an understanding that this could take a while, but what they need to do is reinvest the money that goes to policing into a public safety department.

There’s a great interview at In These Times with an organizer who talks about alternatives to policing and real solutions for safety. What we need to think about is how to take power away from the police and replace them with something. It’s a difficult task because they are so entrenched. There’s a very powerful police union there, [formerly] headed by Bob Kroll, who is a lunatic. It’s going to take a while but some change is possible.

JF: This is good context for this series of interviews. Not everyone involved will be thinking as in-depth about the wonky electoral side of this as us, but that’s part of it.

Alex Ptak: If there is electoral change, it’s going to be a reverberation from grassroots organizing.

* * *

JF: Let’s talk to our first guest. This is Jene.

Welcome to the show, Jene.

Jene: Hi!

JF: Can you give me a snapshot of what it’s been like in Minneapolis for the entire last year? I’ve noticed that things seem to be still going on there in a way that they’ve died down here in New York, for example.

Jene: It never stopped. We had predator drones flying over us last year when the protests started going down, and since then, just looking at the aircraft aspect, there’s at least one neighborhood in our city being surveilled by a helicopter at all times. And half the time that’s not showing up on air traffic apps or anything like that. Every time something else goes down, every time there’s a little nudge, we get the National Guard called in. They’re basically always on standby now. We’ve had this really long, ongoing torture of various neighborhoods around the city. Everywhere from south Minneapolis to Brooklyn Center, which is in the north.

That’s just the thing that you can see concretely with your own eyes. We’re dealing with a lot of misinformation from the biggest newspaper in our state that seems to be coordinated with the city. We’ve got all sorts of organizations that are not cool to queer people or Black youth who are getting paid by our city to step in as “mediators” and are making it worse. It’s really wild to see the rest of the country saying that we’re a burned-out hellhole. Because if you don’t go directly to where everything got burned down, you can’t tell that things got burned down. You can smell the uprising in Uptown a little bit. You can smell the uprising in South to this day. But it’s been a year. The police didn’t stop killing people. The police didn’t stop lying about killing people.

The COVID funds that our city was supposed to use for a lot of good things never got used. And we’re in this constant battle now where our mayor is trying to get reelected and talking about all these great things he’s going to do with the COVID money. And we’re seeing that bureaucracy never moves fast enough to save people’s lives. There is ongoing pushback from all our elected officials and the standard not-for-profit complex trying to keep anarchist organizers and mutual aid networks under their thumb, but the fact is that without this entire web, I don’t think anyone would have gotten through this shit.

JF: Jacob Frey the boy mayor is trying to get reelected after everything that happened so publicly last year—that’s crazy.

For anyone uninitiated who is listening, I guess we should probably start with the most high profile story, which is the killing of Winston Smith. What happened there?

A lot of the anger and mobilization now is saying a lot about the fact that we’ve got other police murders that are not resolved.

Jene: Best we can tell, a radical Black man who was a revolutionary—and was very open about it in the community and on his social media—was targeted by police (who really knows, but some people are claiming that the original charge that they had a warrant out for was a total BS charge). He went on a date, he went and had some lunch, he posted some pictures to his Instagram, and wound up getting boxed in by at least half a dozen unmarked police cars, by plainclothes officers who did not wear body cameras, who did not announce that they were there. We’ve got the witness who was his date in the car saying that she never saw a gun—he had a phone in his hand. And we’ve got the pigs claiming that they got bullet casings and a gun out of his car. And yet again—in another instance—they have failed to do any gunpowder residue analysis.

That’s happening in a neighborhood where not too long ago [2013] we had another Black man get murdered by police who made all sorts of unreasonable claims about what they found. We’ve got a history here. There was another man of color who was murdered by police [in 2006, on the Northside] and they claimed he had a gun on him. Fong Lee was killed by Jason Andersen and had a gun planted on him—that was what the court decided: it really was planted [Andersen was still acquitted by the all-white jury]. And they have not changed anything or done anything. So a lot of the anger and mobilization now is saying a lot about the fact that we’ve got other [police] murders that are not resolved.

Winston Smith was killed by a combination of Hennepin county sheriffs and Ramsey county sheriffs on a federal task force—we’ve had so many federal task forces here that it’s hard to keep straight the ones that are harassing water protectors [resisting Enbridge Line 3 in northern Minnesota] and the ones that are killing people here [in the city]. But they did say it was Hennepin and Ramsey county sheriffs that fired the shots. The big controversy here is that everybody thinks that we got police reform and that everybody has to wear body cameras, but if you take the step of making it a federal task force, the law doesn’t say you have to—the law says you can. And they chose not to.

AP: In a lot of cases it sounds like even when they’re supposed to, they say, “Whoopsie, forgot, turned it off by accident, my finger slipped.” Very convenient.

I’m curious, when you say the “smell” of uprising, do you mean literally?

Jene: Yeah. There’s a certain combination of burnt comrade AutoZone, burnt Third Precinct, burnt Wendy’s fryers. Burnt-out Wendy’s smells delicious. Most of the things in that area where everything really burned down—buildings have been knocked down. A lot of them are getting rebuilt. And then we’ve got the Third Precinct building which is boarded up and surrounded by a high fence and razor wire. They’re preserving that for us, which is nice.

AP: I’m curious too, when you talk about the COVID money that’s not being distributed—I know this is the case in a lot of cities, but do you have the sense that in Minneapolis it’s some kind of retribution on the part of the government against the people for burning down the precinct or for the last year? Is there a sense that people are being punished? Or is it just bureaucracy?

Jene: Some of it feels that way. George Floyd Square still stands—depending on who is there and who is doing watch and who is holding that space, sometimes traffic really doesn’t go through it. Sometimes it’s open to traffic even though there are people milling around in the space. And part of a thing that our city is using right now is around $359,000 to pay organizations to come in and do their dirty work and get rid of barricades and power-wash graffiti. They’re paying for that with money that was supposed to be used for COVID safety. We’ve demonstrated that.

The other piece of this regarding COVID funding—we had a polar vortex winter. It was negative forty-five [degrees Fahrenheit] at one point. Hotel rooms for unsheltered houseless people are fully reimbursible by FEMA. The CDC still says that individual shelter is the only safe option other than an encampment. And we had unhoused people out here starting a collective and raising $40,000 to get themselves and every other unsheltered person they could find into a hotel for the week that it was the worst. All of this burden that should be placed on the city, that my tax dollars go for, is actually falling on the shoulders of people with way less privilege than me, because there is a constant othering of Black and Brown people in our city, and if you happen to be Black or Brown and unsheltered, you do not exist to the system. And they’ll spend the money they’re supposed to spend on keeping you alive, on having these organizations bully the community.

AL: Can you tell us a little bit about George Floyd Square? I hadn’t heard of that until I started reading for today’s episode.

Jene: George Floyd Square is the intersection of 38th and Chicago—I’m not quite sure how far it extends in each direction. But there is a large greenhouse and a very large memorial there. It used to be much bigger. The most poignant piece of art was a huge ombre rainbow painted down about a block of the street with all of the names that they could come up with of victims of police murder. That site was not initially barricaded, but a couple days after the murder happened—just like in the case of Winston Smith—somebody plowed through a space where people were grieving and that’s when the barricades went up. Did you know someone was killed here at the memorial for Winston Smith? That’s why the barricades came up, and that’s why they’re barricading Wince Marie Way, because we have a history there. So beginning in June [2020], barricades went up [at George Floyd Square], and it remained completely held by the community and closed to traffic (except local traffic) for almost a year.

But it’s been contentious the entire time. They’ve got a list of twenty-four demands that they want met. “No Justice No Streets.” But it’s gotten squishy in the past few weeks, with a lot of organizers on the ground deciding it’s a marathon and not a sprint, and that it’s not the street that is important but the community. That’s highly contested depending on what faction you talk to. But it’s still there. It’s still vibrant. They still have morning and evening meetings for anyone who wants to come.

AL: Is it mostly about having taken the street, showing that there is power in collective action? Or is it like a utilitarian meeting place? What’s the value, in your point of view?

Jene: In my point of view, the entire city is traumatized, and they didn’t want the site disrespected. We had people from all over the world showing up to mourn and pay respects, and we still do. It was a really powerful moment in American history. Some people really do that respectfully. Some people just want to come sit there on the ground and look at the fist for an hour. And they can’t do that anymore. I think it was a little bit of everything. It was such a huge deal that for the longest time, even the more liberal organizations were willing to do more radical actions to protect everyone’s right to interact with the space and grieve how they needed to.

Very rightwing people who have been proudly photographed with Proud Boys, people who were present at the January 6 insurrection, are just hanging out on Facebook and having fun conversations with the same people who are painting over the artwork at Wince Marie Way.

JF: I read at some point that it was operating as some kind of quasi-autonomous zone. Is that a thing that happened? Is it still happening? What’s the deal? I think what I had heard is that while the police and Jacob Frey didn’t really want to admit it, they also weren’t really going into it in full uniform.

Jene: I’m sorry about the exasperated sighs. Long year. I would say yes and no. There was a large swathe of people involved down there and in various communities that didn’t like calling it that, especially because of all the negative publicity of the CHAZ, and so on. And the idea of an autonomous zone is seen as a very white anarchist concept here. You would see “George Floyd Square Autonomous Zone” painted on some things. But depending on who happens to be down there when you ask…

They were not open to traffic. They did let police in at least once, when there was actually a shooting there. But most of the police action that we saw happening in George Floyd Square was random bait cars that were obviously stolen and ditched and snuck in, in the middle of the night. It was pretty obvious they were trying to make up excuses to come in. But there wasn’t more violence down there than there usually is. That corner is known. It has a history.

AL: I wanted to follow up a bit about these organizations that are working on behalf of the city or funded by the city. To what extent are they representing themselves as radicals speaking for the community but are effectively helping the status quo? What are some of these organizations and how do they operate, and how are you pushing back against that?

Jene: They’re not really framing themselves as radical. They’ll get up at the podium with Frey and [MPD chief Medaria] Arradondo, and with heads of Operation Safety Net—that super fun shadowy government entity—and say that they’re not trying to be radical, they just want peace or whatever. When the city wants to pay people, they’re not really going for the radical organizations. They’re going for what seems radical and slightly scary to our very white liberal leadership.

JF: I don’t know if you know about this in detail, but I keep reading about these police collaborator groups, NGO-type organizations that are proposing to be “moderators” between the ongoing protest and the police, and are obviously just advantageous to the police and full of moles and stuff like that.

Jene: We have a ton of that. Somewhere there is a whole diagram of how all these various organizations are connected to each other, connected to the mayor—we’re starting to see some really troubling overlap in some of the organizing where very rightwing people who have been proudly photographed with Proud Boys, people who were present at the January 6 insurrection, are just hanging out on Facebook and having fun conversations with the same people who are painting over the artwork at Wince Marie Way. The more you look into it—it sounds like we all need tinfoil hats. But we’ve got receipts for all of this, showing that now these people who used to hang out with the Proud Boys are trying to weasel their way into things here.

I’m not going to call out specific organizations—I think another person you’re talking to, because he is a Black man, his take is more important than mine. But it’s really obvious that they’re not interested in the kind of liberation that centers people like Black queer youth. We’ve gotten a lot of misogyny and homophobia and threats of assault toward Black queer youth coming from these organizations, and it’s really troubling. It’s troubling that they’re doing it at all, but it’s really troubling that they are using organizations whose members really make people feel unsafe.

JF: I won’t rattle off a bunch of them, but there’s one that keeps popping up in what I’m reading about, called the Agape Movement. I guess what they’re saying is they’re bridging the gap between the police and the community.

Jene: They are one organization that has been on the ground and has been propped up as the model for how our city wants to “heal the community.” But I’ve got unhoused folks living in the area who are telling folks that they’re getting harassed by these people. Who do you complain to when somebody does a hate crime against you, when they’re paid by the city? We don’t know how to do that. They don’t have a manager. They’re just getting paid to do whatever the hell. And I’m sitting here saying, “Hi, we’ve got twenty people who live in this encampment, it’s going to be negative forty-five, could you chip in five dollars towards our fundraiser, mister Mayor?” And, nothing.

JF: Just to round it out here, you’ve been talking about the idea of the marathon versus the sprint. Where do you see all this heading in the short or the long run? Is it just an endless mutual aid effort while keeping the demands posted? Or is there any sign of any sort of action to put pressure on the city, or anything being put together?

Jene: I would like to say that I were confident that Frey wouldn’t get reelected. But we know he’s probably going to be. He didn’t get enough to get the DFL endorsement, which is great, but our governor endorsed him, because he likes playing army in our city. And in Brooklyn Center. They played army in Brooklyn Center, too.

Half of the people just want to blame all the crime or whatever, but everyone who lives here feels like nothing is right in our city. And we are one or two more big events away from something really big happening. A lot of people who I know who have previously been affiliated with the not-for-profit sector have been radicalized this past year. Everyone is so frustrated because we’ve all been fighting so long. And the anarchists are doing things one way, and the not-for-profit sector is doing things another way. I don’t know if anybody even has the bandwidth to sit down and try to bridge those gaps, because we’re always kept in this state of emergency. There’s always helicopters, but they never tell you why they’re circling, or you can’t see them on the radar. We have a spy plane out here. Anybody listening to this who wants to know more about what’s happening should look at Unicorn Riot. They’re on Twitter too. They’re basically the only journalists we trust to do on-the-ground reporting here. But we’ve got a spy plane that can see your heat signature through a building, through cloud cover, from blocks and blocks away, flying around us regularly. Normal stuff.

Nobody knows. I wish we had a plan. I think everybody really felt—when you watch somebody die on camera and it takes that long, and you watch them do it that many times, and you have shit getting burned down, and you take a police precinct, and you do all this stuff—I think everyone thought we were going to get further with this, because we’d never burned shit down before. A year later, everybody’s getting burned out.

And we’ve got Line 3 splitting our on-the-ground forces. We need bodies at the Mississippi river, and at every single anti-Enbridge action right now. It’s the most critical time. Line 3 is a tar sands pipeline from Canada. There are so many fronts. Everybody’s doing the best they can do, and it would be really cool if the pigs could stop murdering people so we’d have a week to breathe.

As far as the street medic situation goes overall, it hasn’t just been about the start of the civil war around George Floyd, it has also been the pandemic. Because our unhoused population grew, and medics go where they are called to.

AL: It sounds intentional on their part. Keep things constantly chaotic so people don’t have room. It’s part of the reason why—not to get too abstract here—people are working so long and squeezed so tight in this country is because you have less time to get together and think about the world and change things. That’s really scary about the heat-sensing [aircraft].

Jene: It’s vaguely comforting to know that when I stand on my deck and give them both fucking fingers, they can see them. Zoom in on this, dude.

I really want to push people towards Unicorn Riot’s coverage of everything going on in Minnesota right now. I really want people to take a look at MPD150, because we’re serious about abolishing our police and that is the best resource we’ve got for explaining why. It’s Minneapolis police specific. I do have a couple open collectives for encampments of unsheltered people that I would like to point people to. That money goes straight to people who are living unsheltered and they have full control over it.

JF: Thanks for talking to us; good luck and solidarity in the struggle against the goddamn pigs.

* * *

Now we are joined by Sol, a street medic who also runs the Twitter account for Smith Marie Square. Sol, welcome to the show.

Sol: Hi, thanks for having me.

JF: Thanks for talking to us. Can you tell us, to start off, about Smith Marie Square? When did it start? How’s it going?

Sol: It started off as Boogie World after the assassination of Winston Smith, and with the unfortunate murder of Deona Marie we have adapted the name to Smith Marie Square in honor of both of them.

JF: I don’t think we’ve talked about Deona Marie yet. Can you explain to us who Deona Marie is and what happened?

Sol: Deona Marie was the woman who was murdered by a vehicle—they were playing volleyball in the intersection at about midnight that night, I forget exactly which night it was, and a truck from at least three blocks down came speeding down [Lake Street] at a hundred miles per hour and rammed into the protesters playing volleyball. It was a fatality for Deona Marie, and five other people were also hit; two of them injured. Those two people lived.

JF: Was this a drunk driver or was this intentional?

Sol: We believe it was intentional. He was revving up from three blocks down according to witnesses. And when he got out of the vehicle of his own volition, he said he was going to kill himself afterwards anyway.

AL: That’s a lot of evidence in one direction there.

JF: It’s been a thing in recent years. This is a weird fascist tactic for attacking protesters, jumping in a fucking car.

Can you tell me a little bit about what’s going on at Smith Marie Square? Is it similar to George Floyd Square? Is there mutual aid stuff? Is it vigils and stuff like that?

Sol: It’s everything. They’re having an event today; we’ve gotten together on demands, so we’re having a demand release party. There’s barbecues, there’s food. The garden is really huge. People come and make art. People come with their own megaphones and they say whatever their message is, they practice their freedom of speech. The memorial for Winston Smith is up in the parking garage where he was murdered, but a lot of people hang out next to the unfortunate death site of Deona Marie because that is the one that is on the street where she was murdered, on the sidewalk.

There isn’t much that doesn’t go on there in the name of practicing our right to protest.

JF: Do you face harassment from the police? Is there a huge presence there? Do they stay away? How does that work?

Sol: In the beginning, as with everything, there was huge police presence. Nowadays they just pass by, honk every now and then. The property manager for the side that is the garden—there have been conversations and there has been push back and forth, so as of right now from my perspective, I will say that no one is getting pushback in the garden, but Link has been more involved in the garden and might tell you differently. As for the street, and the other side of the driveway, which is public property, there’s been a lot of pushback, because that’s the part that the police can get involved in. That’s the part that the city gets involved in because it’s the street. They’ve covered up a lot of the graffiti—of course every time it gets covered up it gets put back. They’ve tried to clear the memorial; protesters wouldn’t let them, and are still not letting them.

There’s also an art event coming up in August where, speaking for myself, I’m going to be expecting a lot more pushback against the space to try to clear it out so the bourgie white people can come buy mosaic brass ugly fish. [In the time since this interview aired, the Uptown Art Fair has been canceled, citing “safety concerns and continued unrest.” —ed.]

AL: You mentioned you have some demands now, can you share with us some of the demands and strategic discussions you have about how to implement them?

Sol: I can’t share any strategic discussions because I wasn’t there for some of them. But I can say that there are sections of demands. Some demands are for the property manager, some demands are for the mayor, some demands are for the city council. That’s as far into it as I can go.

Community knew who Winston Smith was, and that he had no connection to anything with those three kids or even any kind of gang violence in the city. Actually he was a comedian, a local Instagram influencer.

JF: Fair enough. Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s been like to work as a street medic for the last year? Have things gotten hairy?

Sol: I’m new—I’ve been a street medic since about May. But as far as the street medic situation goes overall, it hasn’t just been about the start of the civil war around George Floyd, it has also been the pandemic. Because our unhoused population grew, and medics go where they are called to. The same is said for mutual aid. But since the start of the civil war, there has been pushback: unfortunately it’s common for street medics to be attacked for giving aid. I honestly don’t know why that is; attacking medics is actually a crime—a war crime. Fascist police state, war crimes abundant. I’ve seen medics get attacked. And even after that I still decided to go to the training, because I wanted to be a street medic for a very long time, since before all this even happened.

But as a medic now, I mostly do mental health medic-ing, not physical health medic-ing. No matter what kind of medic you are, there’s always a hairy situation going on. People make their choices on how arrestable they want to be that day, and I keep mine very low. Of course the police can decide to roll up at any time. But I would say, for what I’m doing, things aren’t that dangerous, at least not right now.

AP: You said you’ve always wanted to be a street medic. What inspired you to do it?

Sol: Ever since I found out about what a street medic is, shortly after I moved to Minnesota—I like to be where I’m needed; I like to help people; I like to be efficient in my community. My community always means the most to me, so I want to be there for them in any way that I can that is also healthy for me.

[The following was submitted to AZ by Sol to replace the portion of their interview missing from the recording. —ed.]

I’m a newly trained street medic that has been doing mutual aid since the beginning of the civil war. I started doing mutual aid by gathering and redistributing funds for some of the volunteers at the Sheraton and at many of the encampments at that time.

Then I started “power packs to the people” when teachers were chained to the fence [surrounding Hennepin county government center in downtown Minneapolis during the Chauvin trial]. I figured they’re chained to the fence and they have a lot of supporters outside of the government center so they probably need to charge their phones. The battery packs were greatly received, and still are today.

I recently started doing “ride-sharing is caring” as a response to the heat wave we had a few weeks ago. I continue doing ride-sharing is caring due to the Minneapolis Police Department’s vandalism of popping the tires of demonstrators.

[Contribute to both of these efforts here.]

* * *

JF: We’re now joined by Comrade Link. Welcome to the show.

So you’re at the damn thing right now?

Link: I am, overlooking the memorial garden.

JF: What we were going to talk about a little bit here is what you have called the “narrative wars” around Winston Smith. Can you tell me a bit about what you mean by that?

Link: From the jump, day numero uno, when Winston was assassinated, there were nonprofit organizations, a part of the Office of Violence Prevention in Minneapolis—these are orgs that are funded through that office. They were at the caution tape; people wanted answers: who got killed and what’s going on? And these orgs were at the front saying, “How do we know that this wasn’t the guy who killed our babies over north?” Because at this time there had been three kids—Ladavionne, Aniya, and Trinity—all under ten, and they got killed over Northside from street violence. And they were up here being like, “How do we know this wasn’t their killer?” The Star Tribune shortly after that tweeted out a whole article saying “Murder suspect killed in parking garage.” That was narrative war number one. The Star Tribune, the most viewed newspaper and local media media organization in the Twin Cities, put out the narrative that Winston Smith was a murder suspect.

That got out. But community knew six hours later who Winston Smith was, and that he had no connection to anything with those three kids or even any kind of gang violence in the city. Actually he was a comedian, a local Instagram influencer. It took the Star Tribune five days to correct it, and when they corrected it, it was just an editorial.

JF: They do that in the media a lot, where by the time that they edit it, no one’s reading it, the word already got out.

AP: That’s what they do, they’ll do some dogshit article and then they’ll let you gas on about it in the letters to the editor, and then it never gets retracted.

Link: They end up being capitalism’s spokesperson. They parrot—it’s crazy, they just leave it up. The opinion pieces, how they word things. It’s crazy. The media is very powerful, it’s crazy how powerful the media is and what they decide to do with their power.

JF: It’s a tool for them against us. As I was reading about this, it’s my understanding that what happened is they used the pretense that he supposedly had a murder charge to explain away what was obviously an assassination by this US Marshal task force. And then, if you read into it, he did not have a murder charge. All he had was a charge for possessing a weapon. He had been pulled over and had a gun in his car. People have pointed out that if you look at his social media, most of it is promoting music and comedic sketches. He had a thing where he was showing off his car and it was the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, it’s pretty funny. And then there’s a picture of him with a gun or something—sure, but there are pictures of me with a gun on the internet and I didn’t get assassinated this week. What does that mean?

AL: Guns are legal in Minnesota. It’s not a crime to have a gun and take a photo with it. This is a tale as old as time, right? A Black person gets murdered and then the media rewrites their history as a “thug” or whatever. Do you feel like this is reminiscent of the “outside agitators” narrative from last summer, where good churchgoing liberals in Minnesota didn’t want to believe that people from Minneapolis and St. Paul actually had grievances that they were taking out on police, that this was just a big plot and people from out of town? Is that the same way the media is constructing a narrative here?

Link: Bingo. You got it. And yeah, like you said, it’s as old as time. The murder of a Black person and then the murder of their character.

Then there was Hunter Brittain—he was seventeen years old, he was killed by local law enforcement in Lonoke county, Arkansas. He got killed unjustly by police just a few weeks ago. He was innocent and he shouldn’t have been killed. Seventeen-year-old white kid. I went on his Facebook page, and he’s got pictures with hunting rifles and all types of things. But those were not the pictures they portrayed him with when they were announcing he was killed by police officers, you know what I’m saying? That was just something I had to point out. It seems intentional.

Keep in mind they had a whole operation. They had shut down electricity in the parking structure. They knew that he was going to eventually come from Stella’s to the parking ramp. Why did they choose that way to execute the arrest? Because it wasn’t an arrest. It was an assassination.

JF: The other thing about this—you refer to it as an assassination. I think that’s an apt phrase. This isn’t a case, as so many shootings are, of the police out doing police shit and they “accidentally” kill someone on purpose. This seems like it was orchestrated because of his social media presence, because he was talking about militant resistance—which is something that all of us are fucking talking about. But they took it to one guy, and it seems like they pinned a narrative to him: look at this scary Black guy who’s talking about armed uprisings.

Link: I use that word—you broke it down perfectly. It is. If you go to Winston’s Instagram—he died June 3. June 1 and June 2 he was in the same parking lot. He hung out in this area. He went to Stella’s often. He was in this parking lot June 1 and June 2, the exact same parking lot, but he was with his homeboys, shooting skits. If they were monitoring him like they said they were through social media, they knew he was at this parking lot, they knew he was at the same spot. They got him on the third—he was there for two days prior, just with a different crowd. They waited until he was on a date with a young lady. And they didn’t get him in Stella’s. They didn’t get him on his walk across the street from Stella’s to the parking structure. They got him while he was cornered in his car. Keep in mind they had a whole operation. They had shut down electricity in the parking structure. They knew that he was going to eventually come from Stella’s to the parking ramp. Why did they choose that way to execute the arrest? Because it wasn’t an arrest. It was an assassination. In my opinion. It’s crazy, man.

AL: What was the incentive or the motive behind killing Winston in particular?

Link: You said it, man, he was starting to pop. I don’t know if people know about this new wave, hood comedy is what it’s called. It started in Chicago, then it branched off into Atlanta with DC Young Fly. He’s probably the most famous one who got his start in what’s called “hood skits” or hood comedy. That’s what Winston was doing. Winston was on his way to getting millions of views. And a couple months ago he was telling people: look y’all, protesting with y’all’s hands up, talking about being peaceful—his perspective was we’ve been doing that for too long. A lot of other people feel the same way. Like, bro, we need to maybe switch up our tactics.

With millions of people watching, you can’t be—and it’s not millions of liberals, it’s millions of people coming from the same material conditions that he’s coming from. People from impoverished conditions. People who didn’t necessarily feel like they fit in at school, whether it be the teachers or the administration making them feel alienated; they may have had to leave school and hop into another lane of life. Those are the types of people who were watching Winston, who laughed at Winston, who Winston influenced. You can’t have millions of people getting ideas like that, you know what I’m saying?

JF: This story is starting to come into focus for me, and it’s fucked up. You had this guy making front-facing videos, a pretty harmless thing that all of our friends do all the time. And he gets successful, starts to gain some traction, and then simultaneously on the same social media feed is criticizing nonviolent protest—which needs to be fucking criticized, because they use it to keep us from being able to leverage any power against them. This is a combination of that, and they go: “Okay, we need to nip this thing in the bud.” Makes sense.

Link: Absolutely.

JF: Thanks for illuminating that for us.

AP: So I read that the US Marshals had six cars surrounding his vehicle, and he’s shot to death in his own car suddenly in the parking lot. The one comparison I kept seeing over and over again when I was reading about this is it’s similar to Michael Reinoehl, who last year was disappeared behind a back alley and shot forty times by the same federal group.

Is there any connection that you’re seeing between these two? Is this a pattern? What can we even do about this?

Link: You look at who Michael Reinoehl was: he was a protector of his community. He engaged in protest. He stood up for Black lives. He stood up against racial injustice and social injustices. He had dedicated his life to that. He protected his friend from a white supremacist terrorist, and then he got hunted down by a US Marshal federal task force.

And then after that, the president who sent that hit—I’m going to call it a hit—what did he say during the interview about it? They weren’t interested in arresting him, they got in there, bing bang bow, it was done. That’s what he said about the US Marshal federal task force. That’s what he said about the people who went and killed Michael Reinoehl.

Fast forward now to Biden’s administration. We have a political dissident, someone who is an influencer in Winston Smith. He’s an influencer on Instagram, on social media. And then he’s getting the message out about different tactics than nonviolent protest.

AP: It seems to me like the trend here is the police, the Marshals especially, have figured out that if you can point to anything about this person ever appearing with a gun or having a charge for anything at any time, in the media you can essentially wipe them out with no questions asked. They kind of found the sweet spot of who they can take out for that. It’s scary.

Link: It’s super scary. Because Winston was on state probation. His warrant was a state-level warrant. Why was a federal—you said it. They’re going to justify reasons to involve these federal hit squads. We think the Minneapolis Police Department is accountable to no one—these people are really accountable to no one. They don’t have to wear body cams. They summoned Hennepin county sheriff’s office and Ramsey county sheriff’s office here in Minnesota to be a part of this federal group, and though it’s mandated in Minnesota law for them to wear body cameras, they told them to take their body cameras off because the federal government, we don’t operate like that. Take your body cams off. And we got no dash cams. Ain’t going to be no footage of this. You know what I’m saying?

It’s like, wow. Yeah. You’re exactly right. They’re justifying sending hit squads out on people who have been taking pictures with guns. It’s crazy.

JF: Thank god that we here on this show are not that popular or funny.

Just to wind this down here, just because this is such a long, ongoing situation: I wanted to ask your particular point of view or impression on where things are heading, what the future looks like with any of this stuff, especially in Minneapolis where things are not getting covered the way they should be.

AL: Is there any hope that you’re going to get little Jacob boy out of there? Gentri-Frey-cation?

Link: I’ll try to make it as brief as possible. Last year with the George Floyd and Derek Chauvin thing, there was talk of the Minneapolis city council disbanding the MPD. But there’s a hidden feature in our structure called the charter commission. It’s a bunch of unelected people who are the buffer between the council and the mayor. The council writes stuff up and then the charter sees it and says no, we’re not pushing this through to the mayor, it’s not worth it.

Frey is running up against a lady named Sheila Nezhad. She believes in abolition. When Sheila gets in there, she’s going to get rid of the charter commission. Sheila just beat Frey at the DFL city convention here in Minneapolis. She was 53% and Frey was 40%. That’s huge, I feel like. That’s greatly due to the on-the-ground work in Minneapolis this past year.

They say we’re making Minneapolis political—you have to. Everything is politics. You can dismiss it as ‘politics’ because you’re not going through it, but someone else in real life is going through that. Policy creates politics. Hopefully that’s the up and up: Sheila beats Frey and then our on-the-ground fight becomes easier. I’ve lost faith in electoral politics, but I’ll admit our on-the-ground work becomes easier if Sheila gets in office.

JF: Thank you so much for talking to us, and thanks for all the work you’re doing out there.

Link: Thank you guys, I appreciate you having me on.

Featured image source: [at]Jimmi_Lotts (Twitter)

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