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Minnesota Native News

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Minnesota Native News is a weekly radio segment covering ideas and events relevant to Minnesota’s Native American communities. Made possible by the Minnesota Art's and Cultural Heritage fund


After protecting property during the Minneapolis uprisings, Native leader reflects on policing

HOST INTRO: Conversations about changing policing and public safety continue around the state. Today reporter Melissa Townsend talks with one of the people who took public safety into their own hands during the protests and violence in Minneapolis after George Floyd was killed by police there. 

Mike Gozee’s office is on Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis about 10 blocks from where dozens of buildings on Lake Street went up in flames. He is Ho Chunk, and Executive Director of the American Indian Community Development Corporation. His organization owns a number of other properties on and around Franklin Avenue. He says that’s part of why he stood his ground; he knew police attention would be on Lake Street. 

GOZE: I knew the focus would be there.  There would be nobody who would spend much time - they hardly spend much time here regularly - and then in the case of the unrest 10 blocks south, we’d really be in a world of hurt. and and and…

I went to Maria’s Cafe and I saw Maria and she’s been there at Ancient Trader’s Market which is one of the buildings we own - since it opened.  And I talked with her and she said, Mike, I want to show you I redid my whole restaurant: new carpeting, new ceilings, new countertops, redid the bathrooms and she said I spent all my money and I can’t lose this.  That’s when I really decided we really didn’t have anybody that would BE looking at our holdings better than we can. 

So on May 28th, he put a call out on Facebook saying “protect Franklin Avenue” and he 50-60 people from around the region show up at the parking lot at pow wow grounds…

GOZE: And so we always had a number of people there so we could be deployed to wherever people needed us. (:06)

He says for 9 days they were all running on Adrenalyn. Exhausted, but alert they patrolled 14 properties they wanted to protect.

REPORTER: I don’t know how you feel about talking about fear but is there any point you were afraid? 

GOZE: Oh, we were at DIW… 

D-I-W is the non-profit division of indian work in south Minneapolis. 

GOZE: We had about 6 people there and they called and said hey, we are outnumbered here, we need people and so we deployed about 40 people there. and so all of a sudden there were 40 of us in the parking lot and that’s when they started US Bank building on fire.  And then the smoke got so thick that I was handing out masks - everybody had 2 masks on to help us from the smoke and - then there was gun fire. It was literally from a war zone and cars driving up and down the street at high rates of speed. But we stayed there until it became unsafe. Some people stayed there longer because then the movement went down the street and … the danger dissipated a little bit. 

REPORTER: So 40 people show up at the parking lot and what do you do - stand there? Does that somehow have an impact?

GOZE: We are present, several of us were armed - you know.  And you know there was a little bit of a respect from even the looters about Indian land and the fact that we were there.  Several people said - hey, you’re protecting your land, good for you.  So that was - I think  - that being present helped. no doubt about it.  

Goze says he saw evidence of organized white supremacist groups and also opportunists of all backgrounds taking advantage of the chaos.  

GOZE: Some people were there just to party.  There were girls dancing. They broke into the liquor store, everybody had their beer and they were dancing in the street. Whenever there is an opportunity and people are opportunists, they will take it.  

Mike Goze was working in association with AIM which of course started in the 1960’s as an act of resistance over police brutality of Native people. He says policing still needs to change. 

GOZE: I believe in the community input into the police, I believe that’s important.  I also believe the ills of the people in the street are varied and not everybody is a criminal. And if you look at mental health and … trauma related issues. And if the only way you’re looking at people is through a  criminal lens, it doesn’t serve the needs fo the people you may come into contact with. 

Goze says, this is a matter of redistributing resources.

GOZE: You have to understand the lack in investment over a decade plus, so we have to look at how resources have to be better aligned to address those critical needs. 

 ...So there is greater investment in the housing and services people need to be healthy and out of harm’s way. That’s harm from the police or anyone else.

For Minnesota Native News, I’m Melissa Townsend.

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