MINNEAPOLIS – Reese Farrell was walking near her home in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis on Wednesday night when more than a dozen armored National Guard vehicles rumbled down the block.
"All this military presence — it feels strange, like I'm in a movie or something," the 17-year-old said.
As the end of the Derek Chauvin trial draws closer, state and local officials have ordered a show of force that some say has transformed the Twin Cities into an eerie, alarming, almost alternate-reality version of their hometowns.
Thousands of armed Guard members in fatigues are stationed on street corners — in front of libraries, laundromats, pharmacies, restaurants, office buildings and grocery stores. Businesses have boarded up windows, public buildings are surrounded by razor wire and for several nights last week curfews forced Twin Cities residents indoors after dark.
Stung by criticism of the response to riots last spring, when more than 1,000 buildings and businesses were damaged, Gov. Tim Walz, Mayor Jacob Frey and other leaders have opted for a massive presence to maintain law and order.
Some residents and business owners say the militarization makes them feel more secure. Others fear it is suppressing the voices of those seeking criminal justice reform in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
"I want to see justice and change, but I also don't want my city to burn," Dan Woodward said as he walked through a quiet Nicollet Mall during what once would have been the evening rush hour. The block was bookended by two Guard patrols, who nodded hello to the sparse groups of passersby.
Local law enforcement and the Guard suddenly ramped up their public presence last week after a police officer fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was Black and unarmed, during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center. As protests over Wright's death continue in the suburb, Minnesotans are expecting to learn as early as this week whether Chauvin will be found guilty in the death of Floyd last May.
Some locals have lobbed criticism at officials, saying the display of force is an attempt to stifle First Amendment rights that is causing unnecessary trauma for people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by police violence.
"I'm mad," Channah Roseann said as she walked home from her gym in Uptown, a route that led her past at least four military vehicles Thursday evening. "I feel like, if anything, they're trying to look out for maybe the big businesses that might lose money, or richer white people that they're trying to protect. I don't feel like it's me that they're trying to look out for."