Progressive groups call for ban on tear gas, end to Operation Safety Net

"We must create a safe space for our communities’ rage," reads a letter signed by over two dozen elected Minneapolis-area officials who want to ban tear gas.

Police stand outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department where protesters have gathered for several nights following the death of Daunte Wright. (Chad Davis/Flickr)

Twenty six elected Minneapolis-area officials and 51 activist organizations have called for a ban on tear gas and other non-lethal crowd control munitions as the city braces for more riots.

A verdict could be announced this week in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who stands accused of killing George Floyd last May. To prepare for the possible violence that could accompany a jury decision, the state has created “Operation Safety Net,” which enables the Minneapolis Police Department, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the state of Minnesota and local jurisdictions to “operate under a unified command,” per the state.

However, this operation, and anti-riot measures more broadly, has turned out to be rather unpopular with local leaders who say it must be discontinued along with the use of tear gas.

“The last few nights have been marred with unconscionable acts of oppression,” reads a letter signed by over two dozen local Minneapolis-area leaders. The letter calls “on those in control of Operation Safety Net — Governor Walz, Hennepin County Sheriff Hutchinson, Mayor Frey, and local law enforcement agencies — to immediately make changes to Operation Safety Net’s approach to people protesting in our communities.”

These changes include dropping “all charges brought against protesters during the past four days” and banning the use of tear gas and other non-lethal crowd control munitions.

Signatories include Hennepin County commissioners, Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender and four of her allies on the council, St. Paul City Council members, school board chairs and more. “We must create a safe space for our communities’ rage, mourning, and collective action for justice for Daunte Wright,” they write.

A similar set of demands was unveiled recently by a group called Take Action Minnesota.

This letter claims that “tear gas and rubber bullets are not appropriate for crowd control” and calls “for immediate action by executive leaders to stop Operation Safety Net.”

“Militarization of our cities in response to police violence is wrong, traumatizing, and adding to the public health crisis of COVID, police brutality, and systemic racism,” the group says.

This document was signed by ACLU-MN, Honor the Earth, the Minnesota Nurses Association, several additional unions, Black Lives Matter St. Paul and more.

These demands come after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz faced sharp criticism late last week for praising the law enforcement response to the riots in Brooklyn Center.

In a statement delivered after a night of unrest, Walz happily reported that the injuries included “nothing severe. We had no fatalities last night and we had no fires and a limited amount of [bad] behavior.”

He then lauded the “thoughtful” use of tear gas “in the protection of life,” which reduced a “group of about 300” to “a group of about 100 committed people who were wanting to be arrested and they got their wish.”

The governor also expressed that he feels the Brooklyn Center Police Department would have been overrun and destroyed if not for the use of tear gas.

“I’ve learned from the past, that building would have been burned down and my fear is the surrounding apartments would have been burned too,” the governor said last week, referencing the Minneapolis police precinct that was overrun and burned last summer.