Mayor Frey blames Governor Walz for being too slow to deploy the National Guard and quell the recent riots

In the current issue of our magazine, Thinking Minnesota, my colleague, Tom Steward, and I, chronicle the breakdown of the city government of Minneapolis, led by Mayor Jacob Frey, and the state government led by Governor Tim Walz, in the face of the riots which followed the death of George Floyd in police custody on Memorial Day. A ‘failed state‘ is defined as “a state whose political or economic system has become so weak that the government is no longer in control.” For a few days in late May, Tim Walz’ Minnesota matched that description.

At the time, Gov. Walz was adamant that this was not his fault. At a press conference on the morning of Friday, May 29th, after three nights of rioting:

He…launched a stinging attack on Frey’s “abject failure” in handling the crisis. Major General Jon Jensen, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, explained that guardsmen under his command had been mustered that evening and were awaiting orders—which should have come from Frey—but no orders came. Walz explained that he deferred to local officials, stressing his fears that the sight of the Guard—soldiers with Humvees in combat fatigues—might further inflame the situation.  

“That was the turning point,” Walz said of the fall of the Third Precinct, “where we were prepared, and that’s where we moved in, and we did not believe the Third should be given up and that area was taken back.” He went on: “If this would have been executed correctly, the state would not lead on this.” 

We now know that the state’s leadership under Gov. Walz was no more effective. The curfew he imposed was not enforced and another night of rioting followed.

At 1:30 a.m., Walz and Frey held an emergency press conference. Gone was the confidence of the morning. Frey and Walz—who had been lauded for his leadership by CNN just that morning—looked and sounded like broken men, baffled that their repeated statements in support of the protests had brought them no goodwill on the streets. They begged rioters to stop wrecking the cities. “You need to go home,” Walz pleaded. “If you have a friend or a family member that is out there right now, call them and tell them to come home,” Frey implored. “It is not safe. It is not right,” he added, leaving immediately after finishing his remarks and before any journalists could question him.

By that time:

…hundreds of police officers, state troopers, and National Guard troops, some in armored vehicles, fanned out into troubled areas, confronted rioters with mass force, tear gas, and orders to disperse, issued via bullhorn. Their efforts belatedly restored some order, but not before rioters exacted much more damage.

With the National Guard on the streets in force from the early hours of Saturday morning, the riots were quelled, despite the best efforts of House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler to fan the flames on Saturday. It had taken four nights of violence and destruction. At a hearing at the state capitol on July 9th, Gen. Jensen was asked if earlier mobilization of the National Guard would have prevented rioting and damage. His response:

“My unprofessional law enforcement position: yes. My professional military position: yes.”

The events of Saturday, May 30th, seem to bear him out.

At the time, as we’ve seen, this delay was pinned on Mayor Frey, who was set up to be the DFL’s fall guy. But now, it seems, Frey doesn’t want to take the fall. The Star Tribune reports*:

Now Frey is speaking out, saying Gov. Tim Walz failed to take his requests for help seriously until it was too late.

In an interview Monday, Frey said that Walz hesitated to send in the National Guard to quell the growing violence and then blamed him for allowing the city to burn.

“Through an extremely difficult situation, I told the truth,” Frey said Monday. “I relayed information as best I could to state partners. And we did what was demanded for the sake of our city.”

Texts and e-mails obtained from Minneapolis by the Star Tribune through public records requests show the city was trying to give Walz and the state Department of Public Safety what they said they needed to move forward.

State officials, meanwhile, said the city did not provide the detailed information they needed to deploy the Guard until the next day. By then, dozens of buildings had been looted and torched.

What follows is a story of bickering, blame shifting, and backstabbing that explains why the city and state authorities failed to prevent a gang of hooligans from wrecking the city at will for four consecutive nights. The Pioneer Press reported yesterday:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is again asking for federal help to rebuild from the unrest that followed George Floyd’s death.

Walz said Monday he has requested a U.S. Small Business Administration disaster declaration that would free up low-interest loans to help property owners rebuild.

But, if Mayor Frey is correct, those small businesses were destroyed because of Gov. Walz’ inaction. The real disaster was his leadership.

*Reports from Fox 9 and Fox News.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.