Outside, sunlight glints off the fencing and barbed wire that encircle the courthouse. Arradondo, dressed in a pale blue police uniform, is the second witness of the day in Courtroom 1856. Around his neck, a bright yellow lanyard announces that he belongs.
The barriers outside come courtesy of Operation Safety Net, a multi-jurisdictional task force that includes the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and the Minnesota National Guard. Three miles away, a similar fortification wraps around the Third Precinct station, which burned to the ground during the protests that followed Floyd’s death. On it, MLK’s portrait hangs below handmade signs:
our ancestors are watching
what would listening do?
Taking the stand on Monday, Chief Arradondo did not mince words. “I absolutely agree that violates our policy,” he told the jury regarding Chauvin’s actions. Last week, Chauvin’s supervisor, Sgt. David Pleoger of the Third Precinct, testified that Chauvin did not initially inform him of the deadly restraint he used. Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest serving member of the MPD, called it “totally unnecessary.”
Police are a historically defensive institution. But Arradondo, the MPD’s first Black police chief, immediately distanced himself from the officers who killed Floyd, firing all four within 24 hours and calling their actions “a violation of humanity” live on CNN.
Arradondo took the helm of the MPD in 2017, nearly three decades after he joined. In 2007, he filed a lawsuit against the department alleging racism, citing, for instance, a “White Power” patch worn by Lt. Bob Kroll—a white Trump ally and former president of the Minneapolis Police Federation.
Kroll, a long-standing target of local activists, retired shortly after the January 6 Capitol insurrection. Late last summer, protesters wearing shirts that said “Bob KKKroll Must Go!” caravanned a half hour to his suburban neighborhood and took to the streets. Kroll has bragged openly about his infamy: 54 complaints and 11 lawsuits to his name.
A week before Philando Castile, a Black man from St. Paul, was murdered by local police in 2016, Kroll told NPR, “I always equate police work to, like, basketball. If you’re not getting any fouls, you’re not playing hard enough.”
Compared to Kroll, Arradondo is a woke king.
Two weeks after Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, nine Minneapolis City Council members took to a provisional stage in Powderhorn Park, just west of the Third Precinct building. Large white letters leaned against the stage, spelling out their plan: defund police.
Floyd’s death under an officer’s knee quickly mainstreamed abolitionist thought by suggesting police reform is ineffective and insufficient. Floyd was not the area’s first high-profile police killing. Black Lives Matter activists organized locally and nationally around Jamar Clark’s death in 2015 and Castile’s death in 2016. By the time Floyd was killed, the MPD had already implemented many of the police reforms considered best practices.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, protests against police violence were met with militarized, aggressive police. In Seattle, police used tear gas multiple times—during a respiratory pandemic—before Chief Carmen Best temporarily banned it. In Minneapolis, public officials unleashed the largest police deployment in state history, during which officers shot rubber bullets and waged chemical warfare against citizens. Protesters suffered everything from eye trauma to brain injuries as a result.
Amid the protests, Arrandondo joined Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council member Andrea Jenkins for a press conference. “The first priority always is going to be the preservation of life,” he said. For the MPD chief, talking to a camera is a common occurrence. Less than two weeks ago, Arradondo convened a press conference after an MPD officer punched a Black teenager in the face. Last December, Arradondo took to the podium to share inflated statistics about his department’s use of helicopters in local police ops.
From their makeshift stage in Powderhorn Park last summer, Minneapolis City Council members pledged to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.” Council member Andrew Johnson later told The New York Times “he meant the words ‘in spirit,’ not by the letter.” In December, the City Council voted to shift just $8 million of the MPD’s $179 million budget.
Arradondo’s testimony in Courtroom 1856 resumed after a lunch break. Defense attorney Eric Nelson shuffled papers and talked in circles. Arradondo sat calmly behind the plexiglass, clearly at home in the system. His testimony framing Chauvin as a bad apple exemplified the “individualizing ethos of criminal punishment,” as Sarah Haley described it in No Mercy Here, her landmark study of the role of law enforcement in the establishment of Jim Crow.
Shortly after court was adjourned, activist Marcia Howard posted an image on TikTok. In it, rays of a streetlight slice through the night sky. She filmed a squad car idling near a barricade at George Floyd Square while she debated with with an officer inside. Police have no place in the abolitionist zone that emerged out of Floyd’s death, organizers say.
During the second week of jury selection, Arradondo held another press conference. In it, he announced that the MPD would be teaming up with federal agencies, including ATF and the FBI, to gather intelligence on George Floyd Square.
The day before Arradondo’s testimony, George Floyd Square was alive. On Easter Sunday, the space was filled with people dancing, blowing bubbles, and photographing murals. In a TikTok-posted film taken during the celebration, Howard points over her head. A helicopter cuts through the clear blue sky.
Blocks from the courthouse, a news camera sits alone on the street corner. The first day of the second week of the trial has ended. The plaza is quiet. Activists had placed tributes to victims of police violence on the barricades, but police removed most of them. On the ground, someone has drawn a chalk outline of a body and written:
am i next?
Just miles away, a dead tree and black fence guard the Third Precinct’s charred building. The building’s entrance, once glass, has been blocked by cement. The land around it is littered with empty cans and dry grass. Blocks away, a boarded-up indie bookstore reads:
abolish the police