Following the killing of Daunte Wright by police in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, authorities were expecting unrest in the Twin Cities on Monday evening. So state, county, and city government officials took what has become a familiar tack to keep protests at bay: setting a widespread curfew after 7 p.m. local time.
The curfew, which covers Minneapolis, St. Paul, and other areas in the region, includes exemptions for credentialed members of the press, law enforcement, emergency responders, those traveling to and from work, and preselected community patrol organizations. The haste with which the curfew was imposed, just hours before it was to go into effect, left many area residents wondering if Covid-19 vaccination and testing appointments were exempt.
The confusion over Covid-19 vaccination and testing appointments was effectively the collateral damage for a curfew aimed at shutting down massive protests that had not yet materialized, much less been accompanied by any lawbreaking. Instead, curfews imposed over the past year in major urban areas have tended to sow chaos and effectively criminalized protest activity.
“These orders risk criminalizing everyday activities such as Covid appointments and people attending Ramadan prayers.”
“These orders risk criminalizing everyday activities such as Covid appointments and people attending Ramadan prayers,” said Jana Kooren, community engagement director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, noting that Monday night was the first night of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. “Law enforcement is the very institution people are protesting and the police are the ones enforcing those curfews.” Kooren said the ACLU of Minnesota is calling for the curfew to be rescinded.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s office told The Intercept that coronavirus-related appointments could still be kept. “People seeking COVID vaccines are exempt from curfew under the ‘seeking care’ provision,” a spokesperson said in a statement made about two and a half hours before the curfew went into effect. “People will be able to travel to their COVID testing/vaccine locations. They will not have to show vaccine/test appointment info.”
Just how the mayor’s office would be getting the information out to those with appointments remained unclear. Two Twin Cities residents, who both asked for anonymity, told The Intercept that they had not initially known about the exemptions and considered delaying vaccination appointments for themselves and loved ones. The city administration, though, was out of step with the state health department. In an email that went out around the same time as the mayor’s office statement to The Intercept, the Minnesota Department of Health declared that it would be shutting down a major city Covid-19 testing site in less than an hour, at 5:30 p.m., so residents could get home before curfew.
The emergency and curfew orders, issued by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, added another layer of tension to a city already on edge following Wright’s killing and the ongoing murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, whose May 2020 killing of George Floyd set off the U.S.’s largest anti-racist protest movement in a generation.
Efforts to combat the coronavirus epidemic appear to be collateral damage of the curfew, while the targets are the protest movements themselves. Increasingly, cities are turning to curfews as a way to squelch protest in anticipation of large demonstrations, not as responses to them.
The uprisings sparked last summer by Floyd’s killing resulted in a host of large urban areas declaring curfews, often with little notice to residents. Largely ineffective at stopping mass demonstrations, the curfews caused escalations when police unleashed violence on crowds who defied the orders. In places like New York City, where the police crackdowns were harsh, the curfew was weaponized against protesters and bystanders alike.
The criminalization of these protesters created conditions — forcing protesters together to make arrests, then holding them in custody in tight quarters — which could increase the spread of Covid-19, New York magazine reported at the time.
Minneapolis can ill afford a spike in cases. Covid-19 hospitalization rates in Minnesota have doubled in the last three weeks, according to numbers just released by the Department of Health.
In Minneapolis on Monday, a protest vigil for Wright was organized and publicly announced well before the declaration of the curfew. Asked whether people would be arrested for attending the vigil, Minnesota’s top security official, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, only added to the confusion: “I can’t answer that question, because I don’t know enough about where the vigil is.” Local organizers scrambled to move the vigil ahead an hour in an effort to de-escalate any potential situations before they started.
A curfew was also imposed for Monday night in Brooklyn Center, where Wright was killed. Over the weekend, protests erupted in the suburb and police announced that, on Sunday night, between 25 and 30 people were arrested in relation to the growing unrest.
Rather than crack down on and criminalize protesters with a curfew, the ACLU of Minnesota’s Kooren said the focus should be on the policies that give rise to police killings like those of Wright and Floyd. “We should be addressing the underlying issues that caused Mr. Wright to be pulled over in the first place,” she said. “Law enforcement should be deprioritizing low-level crimes that cause people to be entangled with the police in the first place, which result in so many deaths and killings.”