Oluchi Omeoga of groups Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective talks about what life is like on the ground in Minneapolis right now.
Editors’ Note: This interview was taped as former officer Derek Chauvin was arrested.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News, I’m Kim Brown. The eyes of the nation have been focused on Minneapolis, Minnesota after video showing former police officer, Derek Chauvin, with his knee on the neck of handcuffed George Floyd. Mr. Floyd ultimately died from his injuries and subsequently, there were a number of uprisings and protests in the streets of Minneapolis calling for the arrest of the officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death. As of Friday afternoon, May 29th, Derek Chauvin has now been charged with murder and manslaughter.
Well, to get a better understanding and perspective about what has been happening in the streets of Minneapolis in the last several days, we’re joined today with Oluchi Omeoga from the organization, Black Visions, and Reclaim the Block, based in Minneapolis. And that’s where they join us from right now. Oluchi, thank you so much for being here.
Oluchi Omeoga: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Kim Brown: Before we get started, I did want you to let our viewers know about your organization. Can you tell us what Black Visions is along with Reclaiming the Block, just to give us some context?
Oluchi Omeoga: Yeah. Black Visions is a black led organization that centers the power of queer and trans black folks in Minneapolis and St. Paul to create change and vision of a world where black people are liberated. And Reclaim the Block is a coalition of Black Visions and other community members in Minneapolis who actually envision a world beyond policing and actualize that through our city’s legislative system and direct organizing.
Kim Brown: Well, as of Friday, May 29th, a little shy of two o’clock Eastern time, it was announced on national media outlets that the officer who had his knee on the neck of George Floyd, Derek Chauvin has been taken into custody. Let me get your reaction to that latest news in this incident. What do you think about this?
Oluchi Omeoga: I mean, I don’t really have a reaction to it. I mean, folks are charged and not convicted. Folks are convicted. Folks are not even charged right. And I think that the sentiment of Black Visions and of Reclaim the Block is that regardless of the accountability measures that you have on police, the system of policing is inherently racist. So instead of advocating and demanding for the conviction of this, specifically murderer, how do we actually envision a world where police don’t exist in the same ways that they do now and abolish the system?
Kim Brown: Talk to us about what Minneapolis feels like right now. It’s been stated by other organizers, residents in the area even acknowledged today by the governor of Minnesota, that Minneapolis policing has been brutal, has been targeted towards communities of color, black and brown and indigenous communities there. And what happened to George Floyd was certainly not an isolated incident. And the uprisings that we’ve seen are really an outgrowth of that rage and frustration that has been building up there now for generations.
Can you talk to us about how Minneapolis police have been historically dealing with black, brown, and indigenous communities and why this anger is seemingly justified by many other black communities across the country that are looking at this and recognize exactly what is going on.
Oluchi Omeoga: Yeah, thank you for that. I think one thing that I wanted to respond to very quickly was this idea that protesters, specifically black protestors, rage has to be justified in order for their actions to be deemed necessary. As black people living in the world of anti-black racism, we experience generational trauma that is so overflowing in our bodies innately that like, regardless of what we do, our rage is always justified. So when I think about specifically Minneapolis, even like the history that I’ve had of organizing for like even just the past six years, we had Jamar Clark be executed by police in 2015, in November of 2015.
And the organization formation that I was a part of back then, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis really organized around that and led an 18 day occupation of the 4th Precinct. So this has been happening for like, even in the short period of time that I’ve been organizing, but regardless, it’s been happening since the inception of the MPD, which was like 151 years ago now. I think another thing to note generally around the region is like Minneapolis tops itself, and like Minnesota specifically tops itself for being lowest in class as far as unemployment, having the best biking system, being the best places that people want to move to.
But when you look at the numbers that are coming out around the most racist and worst cities to live in in the nation, you see that Minneapolis, St. Paul is actually number four on that list and that every other city on that list on the top five, if not the top seven are all in the Midwest. So we think of this place as a safe haven that people aren’t racist up North, when in reality, what we’re seeing is that it has the greatest racial tension of all of the nation. And I think that’s something that people outside of the Midwest don’t realize, places like Milwaukee as the worst place in the country for being black. Or places like Chicago, Detroit where the unemployment rate for white people might be really low, but the unemployment for black people are very high.
And also you’re seeing that the median income for households is like a third of what white people are getting. So I think that’s where the tension starts and it’s very underlying, and I’m not surprised at the tactics that are being used in this moment because people are fed up. They’ve had enough and they’re ready to uprise and dream of something new.
Kim Brown: And speaking of the uprisings, we’ve really seen some incredible things happening out of these uprisings, including the burning of the 3rd Precinct, the 3rd Police Precinct police station, those pictures were incredible. And the so-called looting of the Target store, but I’ve seen on social media where some of the items taken from the Target store have been re-distributed to the community. Can you talk about this particular nature of the uprisings, because it is not simply just wanting looting and destruction, there definitely seems to be an organized element about it. What’s your take on that?
Oluchi Omeoga: I don’t have a lot of specifics around what has been or hasn’t been taken. I know that the things that are being taken are being redistributed to the community. I also know that people in community are creating safe places and safe havens for small businesses that are local and in the community. So you see people protecting black owned businesses and PLC businesses that actually give back to the community. And I think another interesting piece around the precinct that people don’t necessarily understand or know about if they’re not from Minneapolis, is that police precinct is located not one or two blocks away from a houseless encampment that has been going on even before the pandemic has started.
That no one seems to want to talk about that they only got housing for as far as hotels yesterday and that people aren’t talking about, like, why do we have these structures, these stores, these whatever in place when people are homeless on the street and people don’t have houses? So I think that it’s like, I don’t have an opinion on is it good or is it bad to loot, but I do understand the use of reparations in this time looking like taking from corporations and giving back to people who actually need the resources. And also needing the resources because unemployment is at an all time high nationally and also in Minnesota because of the COVID-19 crisis. And we’re not seeing national dollars go to immigrants and which black people are. Not going to the indigenous community, which is a huge portion of where the authored precinct sits.
We have Little Earth, which is like two blocks away, which is one of the biggest centralized indigenous populations in Minnesota. And they’re seeing that they’re not getting any type of statewide or national support when it comes to the COVID crisis. And now we’re seeing that we’re able to give those people those things because Target was looted, because Cub Foods was looted and they’re able to redistribute that to the community.
Kim Brown: Historically, and this is specific to Minneapolis, but also broader across the US, there’s always a reluctance to charge and prosecute killer cops. A former attorney general from your state is possibly in the running to be Joe Biden’s vice-president, and that is Amy Klobuchar. And there were at least two incidents involving two of the officers in Mr. Floyd’s incident, officer Chauvin and officer Tou, I believe where they were alleged to have committed violent assaults on people. I know Chauvin actually murdered an indigenous man, if I’m not mistaken, whose name is Mr. Reyes, and yet there was no discipline resulting from that.
The attorney general at that time declined to press charges. And many are saying that blood is on her hands, that Mr. Floyd’s death possibly could have been avoided if officer Chauvin had been charged and possibly prosecuted, removed off the streets, so to speak. What is your take about how cops have been dealt with, killer cops, cops who brutalize have been dealt with in the past and potentially what we could expect or hope to see come out of this situation with Mr. Floyd?
Oluchi Omeoga: I don’t have opinions on Amy Klobuchar or like her, I know I am not an Amy Klobuchar supporter personally. I can’t speak for our organization, but I don’t have really an answer for that portion. I think as far as convicting and prosecuting cops, I don’t think that that is a solution to the issues that we’re seeing. I actually don’t think that a good cop exists. I think that the whole institution needs to be abolished and completely changed. And I think what’s interesting when we think about cops in this time is that what we’re envisioning is community policing or community safety rather. And 80% of the cops that are working in Minneapolis that actually don’t even live in Minneapolis.
Officer Chauvin is one of those examples. He lives in Oakdale, which is 40 minutes away from Minneapolis. So I don’t think, to answer your question, I apologize. I don’t think the solution to mass societal shift of policing is prosecution and jail time. I think that actually just recreates trauma, I don’t believe in the prison system at all. And I don’t believe that that’s actually going to create transformative justice. And I think what is going to create transformative justice is taking money from the Minneapolis Police Department specifically, and actually gaining momentum towards a total abolition of the police department.
Kim Brown: From the perspective of police abolitionist, what would you like to happen? What would a police abolitionist have happened in this case?
Oluchi Omeoga: Reclaim the Block actually just sent out a four piece demand to the city council members of Minneapolis. Currently, we’re in a special budget process because of the COVID-19 crisis. So they’re trying to reallocate resources. So the number one thing that we’re asking for, or two of the four things that we’re asking for is one, to never increase the police budget in any of your terms or allocate any more resources to the Minneapolis Police Department. Sorry, and the specific, tangible number that we’re asking for is we’re asking for $4.5 million of the Minneapolis Police Department budget to be diverted towards social services as far as due to the COVID crisis and actual community policing outside of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Kim Brown: Oluchi, another point that I wanted to raise with you is the reaction of President Donald Trump. Just a couple of short weeks ago, he was demanding the reopening of many states across the nation. And he did reference Minnesota specifically. And Trump supporters, I would imagine that’s who they were, came out in force, some of them armed, obviously in defiance of the large gathering ordinance that was in place in many states because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but yet he took to Twitter to call protestors in Minneapolis thugs. Now, obviously this is not a surprise to anyone, this part of Donald Trump’s racist playbook.
But the fact that that is such a striking difference, the fact that people who are in the streets protesting the unjustified murder of a black man are called thugs whereas people who just want to go out and get their haircut, or the ability to go eat in a restaurant are so-called liberating their state or trying to reopen Minnesota. What is your take on that?
Oluchi Omeoga: I mean, you basically said it, right? It’s not a surprise. It’s not a surprise at all. He probably made that tweet himself, then he rhymed it and everything, so he thought it was very clever. But it’s not a surprise to me that that’s the rhetoric that’s coming from the right. And that’s what folks want to do is divide and be divisive across what is protesting and what isn’t protesting. So yeah, I guess I don’t necessarily have anything much to say to that other than it’s not surprising and that it’s going to continue to happen. And what I think is interesting though is that police officers from probably out of state are going to start coming here and that’s okay, yet it’s not okay for people in their own community to be able to come together and try to create societal change.
So I think that’s what’s scaring me the most. And I think another thing that’s scaring me is that Minneapolis organizing, specifically Minneapolis black organizing has had history of vigilantes and vigilantism within our protest. I was specifically there that day of the 4th Precinct when four armed alt-right protestors came in and shot, peaceful protestors, peaceful, whatever peaceful means to you all, peaceful protesters that were occupying the 4th Precinct. So these weren’t people that were destroying property or redistributing wealth or anything like that. These were folks who were just sitting and being in the street together and mourning the loss of a life that happened in the North side of Minneapolis.
So I think that that’s what’s scaring me is that this is just going to increase the vigilantism and the vigilantes that are going to come and try to do some type of justice of their own and are probably going to take lives.
Kim Brown: Well, and that’s another concern I wanted to raise with you is that Trump tweeted, I’m paraphrasing here. “When they start looting, we start shooting.” And I’m curious if you could, can you specifically reference which incident because I don’t think you’re talking about a protest connected to Mr. Floyd. Was this another incident that happened prior where these vigilantes came in and shot at peaceful protestors?
Oluchi Omeoga: Yes. Yes. This was in 2015 during the Jamar Clark occupation of the 4th Precinct. So this happened about five, yeah, it’s about five years ago now. We were occupying the 4th Precinct. Maybe a week in, we got a lot of anti-protestors throughout, but they didn’t really do anything, but these ones were armed. The folks that were on the ground shoot them away, obviously because they were armed and then they actually shot at three or four of our folks and they ended up having to go to the hospital. So that happened in 2015. And especially now after the election of Trump, this was before. This was when Obama was still president. After the election of Trump, I just see that being escalated to another level.
Kim Brown: And speaking of escalation, I wanted to ask about how concerned are you that the Minnesota National Guard has been now called in? And if I’m not mistaken, they have been authorized to use lethal force against protestors. Are you afraid? I almost feel as if that’s a silly redundant question, but are you personally afraid about police escalating now rather than deescalating the situation and whether or not the arrest potentially of officer Chauvin will help to assuage some of the concerns and some of the anger of the people that are taking to the streets?
Oluchi Omeoga: Thank you for that question. I think for me, I’m not on the front lines as of right now. I was at the protest for the last three days, but I’m not as hyper-visible as I was during the 4th Precinct occupation. So as far as my personal and my body, I’m less so afraid. I think being black, you’re always just afraid. There’s always this fear that comes out in different ways. It comes in rage, it comes out in sadness, depression. I’m afraid of my comrades. I know people that are on the front lines every single day, that are there every single day.
I’m afraid for them. I’m afraid for black Minneapolitians.
I’m afraid specifically for black youth that are out there in this moment because the people that are out there are black youth, they’re POCs.
So I’m really, really afraid for them. And not even just like, as far as repression through the police and the National Guard, but also through what this is going to mean for their trauma going forward in life. And yeah, I think that’s mainly what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of the loss of more lives due to this and yeah, that’s all I can definitely say.
Kim Brown: All right. I just have two more questions for you. First, what are your thoughts about seeing these protests and uprisings spread to other cities nationwide at the same time that people from Minneapolis are taking to the streets? People were taking to the streets in Louisville, Kentucky, in Los Angeles, California, in Memphis, Tennessee, in solidarity but also in response to police brutality instances in their cities as well that has been torch lit by what happened to George Floyd. What was your thoughts when you were aware that these other uprisings and protests were happening simultaneously?
Oluchi Omeoga: I mean, I love a solidarity action. I think that for first and foremost, what happened in Minneapolis is not an isolated incident, point blank period. We know that through Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, all of these people. All of these people have died at the hands of police in different areas. Jamar Clark, Philando Castile. This is not an isolated incident. So understanding that people are angry and upset about the things and the oppression that they face in their communities and are taking initiatives to make that change. I am a hundred percent in support of, and I am very, very happy that that’s happening.
And I also think that the thing that that does is it pushes this from, this is a Minneapolis issue, then this is a societal issue, and how do we actually create societal changes? And that’s what I’m really, really happy about.
Kim Brown: And lastly, Oluchi, what is it that you think that people outside of Minneapolis ought to know about what’s been happening in this instance to people in your city, but also what has been happening to communities of color in Minneapolis over, I guess the past 150 years. As you said, that’s how long the MPD has been in existence. For people who are not there or not familiar what’s going on in Minneapolis, generally, what do people need to know if we’re looking from the outside inward?
Oluchi Omeoga: Thank you for that. I think the one thing that I want to raise up in this time is that since organizing from the Movement for Black Lives in 2013, in 2017, till now, I think one thing that people don’t realize is that people, specifically black youth, specifically black organizers, are getting more abolitionist in their politics. Before it was calling for prosecution and accountability and all of these things. And that was what was resonant to the people that were on the ground. But right now they’re past that. And which is why I don’t actually think that getting them arrested is going to actually squelch what’s happening right now, it’s because people are asking for abolition.
They’re saying in layman’s terms, I apologize, I don’t know who your audience is, but they’re saying, “Fuck 12,” which means, fuck the police. This is a message that’s happening and that’s resonant within the vast majority of black folks. So I think that’s one thing. I think another thing about Minneapolis that I already brought up was that like, it is told that Minneapolis is one of the [inaudible 00:24:30] places in the country for black folks and understanding that we’re resilient and also we’re so diverse. So I think one thing that people don’t recognize is that the highest population of Somali people outside of Somalia is in isn’t Minnesota. That we have a huge, huge, huge Somali population.
We have a huge Eritrean population. We have a huge Kenyan, Ethiopian population, and we have a very, very, very big West African population. So my parents being Nigerian and the community that we come from and also Liberian population as well, that people don’t necessarily recognize when they look at blackness within Minnesota. So I think that’s another thing is that we’re resilient to diverse population in Minnesota as far as people of color. I’m not sure if folks know what monk folks are, but they are nomadic folks in Southeast Asia, from Laos, Thailand, Cambodia. And the biggest population of monk people outside of Southeast Asia is in Minnesota.
So when we talk about resiliency within, after the Vietnam war, when we talk about resiliency after what happened in Africa, these people
have been refugees from different populations outside of the US and that’s one thing that folks don’t necessarily realize when they think about population and the diverse population in Minnesota.
Kim Brown: All right. Well, listen, I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you making some time to speak with us, to inform and enlighten our viewers about the situation past and present in Minneapolis and in Minnesota at large. And on behalf of The Real News, we are definitely standing in solidarity with the movement there to get justice, not only for George Floyd, but for so many others who have suffered and died as a result of police brutality. So thank you very much.
Oluchi Omeoga: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
Kim Brown: We’ve been speaking with Oluchi Omeoga, an activist and organizer from the organization, Black Visions, along with Reclaim the Block based out of Minneapolis. Obviously we’ve been speaking about the uprisings as a result of the police murder of 46 year old George Floyd. Thank you very much. And thank you for watching The Real News Network.