“Together we can stop the sweeps!”

In a Minneapolis neighborhood just north of downtown, the residents of a homeless encampment and their supporters have resisted relentless city maneuvers to clear the vacant lot they established as a refuge in late 2020, including through physical defense of the space. During that time, residents and supporters have also attempted to crowdfund to buy the lot, and formed a collective in pursuit of this goal as well as to self-determine what they want the space to be once it belongs to them in the eyes of the state.

Like the rest of Minneapolis and Minnesota, it is land that was forcibly enclosed, its people expelled, by violent colonization, and the city has no more legitimate claim to the land than any other settler institution.

With mayoral and city council election campaigns entering their frenetic final months, it appears the sitting city administration, in coordination with police booster organizations, has plans for the encampment. Near North Camp Defense released the following statement challenging the powers that be to think twice.

While the actors in this story are specific to Minneapolis, the processes being described here are underway in different shapes and forms across the US and across the world within the struggles for racial and economic justice that exploded after the police murder of George Floyd. We salute the Near North encampment’s resistance and thank the collective there for their work and analysis. No evictions on stolen land!

An Open Call to A Mother’s Love, We Push For Peace & Others: Will You Pledge Not To Assist Evictions?

by Near North Camp Defense
6 September 2021 (original post)

We are writing as an autonomous group of individuals who have been involved in unhoused encampment support over the past months and years: cooking with community kitchens, coordinating supply drives and deliveries, providing financial and personal support. We are concerned with recent developments surrounding the Near North encampment community, and we have a simple question for A Mother’s Love, We Push For Peace, and any other group or agency that seeks to support unhoused residents: Will you pledge NOT to assist MPD and the City of Minneapolis in evicting camps?

Near North Background

The Near North encampment has built community and held space since late fall 2020. In March 2021, camp residents alongside community defenders successfully repelled an eviction attempt by physically confronting police as they attempted to set a perimeter for Minneapolis Public Works to bulldoze and trash their homes. Several people are still facing legal consequences from this empowering, successful community defense, and the camp still stands.

Mayor Jacob Frey has refused to use available FEMA funds for emergency housing such as in hotels. Since the city and county are unwilling to move residents into empty homes, CDC COVID guidelines consider camps to be the safest option. Camps are safer than available group shelters, and people choose camps over group shelters for a variety of valid reasons.

At the end of August, Hennepin County & City of Minneapolis staff began a two-week outreach event, setting up a table across from camp every afternoon. This is the first time such an event has happened in the year-long existence of the camp. While the resources offered are welcomed, the camp and allies believe that the event may be a precursor to another eviction attempt. Such “outreach blitzes” have been used in a similar fashion before evictions at other encampments locally and elsewhere.

Nonprofit “Outreach”

At Near North, another group has been present at the two-week outreach event: A Mother’s Love. Their workers say they were asked to be present by the city and county. This group is led by Lisa Clemons, a former MPD officer who supports more police. A Mother’s Love was paid to support police during the Brooklyn Center protests after the murder of Daunte Wright and during the Derek Chauvin trial. In the aftermath of Winston Smith’s assassination by Sheriffs/US Marshals in Uptown, many witnesses who came to the scene to protest reported A Mother’s Love workers attempting to demobilize the protest by spreading lies such as “maybe he killed those kids,” referring to unrelated recent murders, and “[Winston Smith] probably shot at police first.”

At a weekend barbecue at Near North camp, another nonprofit group was present too: We Push For Peace. This group was also paid during the Daunte Wright protests and Chauvin trial, and participants at the Uptown memorial for Winston Smith reported being assaulted by their members. Cub Foods contracts with the group, which issued an apology after a worker assaulted an unhoused elder on video outside a Cub store in early August. We Push for Peace fired the worker, but the incident led many other allegations of harassment and racial profiling by the group to surface.

These and other instances demonstrating their relationship with police led both organizations to be named in the Field Guide to Twin Cities Collaborators, a zine produced by Whittier Copwatch. The Field Guide details a shift in strategy on the part of the city of Minneapolis from relying strictly on police repression and brutality, to using Black nonprofit workers and pro-police community leaders to suppress justified outrage against the police department and the city. The most notable example of this is when the city paid Agape Movement to assist the Public Works department at George Floyd Square to destroy barricades and open the street to cars, while scores of riot police staged nearby in neighborhoods but did not engage at the Square itself.

The Pledge

Given the history above, we are concerned that, shortly before an election in which Jacob Frey is struggling and support for policing is at an all time low, the city is preparing to use a nonprofit group like A Mother’s Love or We Push For Peace as an eviction force, knowing that another attempt by MPD to evict would be met with resistance.

We hope we are wrong, and that these groups’ desire to support unhoused residents – even when the residents’ needs contradict the wishes of the city and police department – is genuine. It is true that material support for encampments has dwindled in the past twelve months, and everyone can use all the sincere help available.

Therefore, we are asking A Mother’s Love, We Push For Peace, and anyone doing support work for encampments to take a pledge:

Will you commit to refuse assistance to the Minneapolis Police Department, City of Minneapolis or Hennepin County with any forced removals (evictions, sweeps, relocations) of unhoused community members?

Encampment evictions are a cruel, hurtful, and political tool the city uses to prevent unhoused residents from building community strength. Forcing constant moves makes strengthening relationships and organizing difficult. Bulldozing and trashing personal property keeps residents continually needing to focus on the most basic means of survival instead of being able to organize and build power.

The number one thing agencies, nonprofits, organizations and individual volunteers can do to support unhoused residents — short of building the political will to move people in to the thousands of empty homes and rooms across the city – would be to refuse to participate in evictions. No putting up fencing, no taking down structures, no moving residents’ property without consent, no picking up litter, no telling camp residents what to do, and no enforcing the will of MPD or Public Works.

We ask other agencies and organizations – city, county, nonprofit, informal, and otherwise – to consider taking this pledge as well. Talk to your members and post on your social media: “We oppose encampment evictions and will not participate!” Supply drives, resource tables, and food events – while a great start when done in a respectful and culturally competent manner – only go so far. Together we can stop the sweeps and truly begin to support all unhoused neighbors.

Support Near North residents financially:

https://www.patreon.com/nearnorth

https://opencollective.com/mpls-northside-mutual-aid

Featured image source: Unicorn Riot

Other communiques from and about the Near North encampment can be found at the Twin Cities Solidarity Network website.

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