State Senate report correctly blames state and city leadership for the summer’s riots

Yesterday, the Minnesota Senate’s Transportation and Public Safety Committee released its report on this summer’s riots in Minneapolis.

The Star Tribune report on this was headlined: ‘Minnesota Senate GOP report blames Gov. Tim Walz, Mayor Jacob Frey for slow riot response‘. The sub-header read: ‘Democratic leaders reject findings, call document fodder for election’, which is curious, because previously both Governor Walz and Mayor Frey had said that the other was to blame.

In the summer issue of our magazine, Thinking Minnesota, my colleague, Tom Steward, and I, chronicled the breakdown of the city government of Minneapolis, led by Mayor Frey, and the state government, led by Gov. 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.

As I wrote in August, at the time Gov. Walz was adamant that this was not his fault and pointed the finger straight at Mayor Frey. 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.” 

But, when a measure of calm was restored, Mayor Frey refused to be the DFL’s fall guy. In August, the Star Tribune reported:

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.

This is a shamefully shambolic story of bickering, blame shifting, and backstabbing. It explains why the city and state authorities utterly failed to prevent a gang of hooligans from wrecking the city – and people’s livelihoods – at will for four consecutive nights. Walz says Frey was to blame, Frey says Walz was to blame. The Senate report simply says they were both right.

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