Recent protests in Brooklyn Center and Minneapolis rightly call attention to excessively forceful police tactics, and Gov. Tim Walz has taken more than his share of criticism for Operation Safety Net, the plan to protect property and keep the peace.
Protesters have decried the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and flash bang grenades. And the use of such weapons should be left only for the most high-risk situations, when property and people are in imminent danger.
But National Guard, state troopers and local police have usually reacted with the forceful counter measures when they’ve taken a barrage of bricks, rocks and frozen water bottles. On a recent night in Brooklyn Center, an organized group attempted to charge and take down the fence around the police station. They were rightly met with force and turned back.
Some worried a nearby apartment building would be destroyed in the protests, making people homeless. Already some have temporarily moved out to avoid tear gas seeping into their living spaces.
Commentators supporting protesters on CNN and other networks lamented that the amount of resources spent on protecting “property” should be spent reforming a racist law enforcement and the court system and supporting communities of color.
We would agree in the most ideal of circumstances. But it appears small groups of bad actors took advantage of the protests in Minneapolis last summer, and the result was $500 million in damage to 1,500 properties and businesses, many of them Black and ethnic-owned businesses around East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.
Walz has taken the criticism in stride, saying he made the mistake once of not protecting property and he’s learned from that. On one night, Operation Safety Net took a less aggressive approach, and it seemed to calm things down. The next night, it didn’t work. Walz has taken appropriate steps to protect property, a task that is so labor-intensive Minnesota needed assistance from Ohio and Nebraska state patrols.
Walz has said he is trying to balance the First Amendment right of protesters while protecting property and keeping police safe as well.
It’s the right balance in an ugly situation. First Amendment rights do not include burning down buildings.