In Minneapolis Protests, Bus Drivers Take a Side


As demonstrations in Minneapolis continued Friday over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died on May 25 after pleading for help while pinned under the knee of a police officer,  some local bus operators have refused to assist police in transporting protesters to jail.

PayDay Report first reported the news that operators had been asked by police to use their vehicles to facilitate mass arrests on Wednesday. A petition to refuse such requests is circulating among members of ATU 1005, which represents drivers employed by Metro Transit in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“We don’t want our people involved in that,” said Dorothy Maki-Green, the vice president of ATU 1005. “We’re not on the side of justice of that.”

The union chapter also issued its own statement of protest on Thursday against Floyd’s killing. “In ATU we have a saying ‘NOT ONE MORE’ when dealing with driver assaults which in some cases have led to members being murdered while doing their jobs,” it read. “We say ‘NOT ONE MORE’ execution of a black life by the hands of police.”

On Friday, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter for Floyd’s death. He and three other officers involved were fired on Tuesday, after video of Chauvin’s fatal use of force surfaced, triggering a wave of outrage. Floyd’s family has said that his death was “clearly murder.” Largely peaceful protests over the killing began on Wednesday but have since been accompanied by looting and violence, with a police precinct and numerous businesses going up in flames; one person was found shot to death near the protests. A separate demonstration occurred Thursday night in Louisville, Kentucky, over the killing of Breonna Taylor, an African-American EMT shot by three police officers inside her home in March. As the weekend begins, protests are taking place in cities nationwide. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, an 8 p.m. curfew has been imposed starting Friday night.

In Minneapolis, much of the local transit workforce is held together by African Americans and Somali immigrants, said Ryan Timlin, the president of ATU 1005. His fellow drivers face racism all the time.“You’re never away from it,” Timlin said. “It’s always there, whether it’s from bus passengers or in daily life.”

Race and transportation access have collided before in Minneapolis, said Yingling Fan, a professor of regional planning and public policy at the University of Minnesota. Like many U.S. cities, it is sliced up by major interstates built in the 1960s. These forced out black communities, including the Rondo neighborhood, which made way for I-94 near downtown. “It displaced and destroyed what was a vibrant African-American community with surgical precision,” said Fan.

By prioritizing highways over public transit infrastructure, the city continued to leave low-income residents of color at a disadvantage, since those communities are less likely to own cars. “There is so much injustice that is built into our city and in transportation infrastructure already,” she said.

Despite the progressive reputation they enjoy, the Twin Cities are among the most racially segregated urban areas in the U.S. The fracture dates back to the days of redlining and real estate covenants, which limited home ownership opportunities for black families and cordoned off entire neighborhoods. Today, access to high-quality transit and job opportunities continues to be issue for majority-black neighborhoods in north Minneapolis. In 2010, when planning for the new Green Line light rail line was underway, black community groups in St. Paul filed a lawsuit to force the city to include stops in their neighborhoods.

“Minneapolis is so racially segregated and we have a long history of forcing people into accessing only small portions of the city,” said Denise Pike, a local public historian focused on race and urban planning. “We have such intense racial and economic disparities, which plays into how people move around different parts of the city.”

The fact that Floyd was arrested and killed on a public sidewalk is a symbol of those disparities, said Ashwat Narayanan, the executive director of Our Streets Minneapolis, a street safety advocacy group. The coronavirus pandemic has already recently highlighted the need for safe transportation options for low-income communities of color hit hardest by Covid-19 and who are reliant on public transit, where crowding is a health concern. The actions of law enforcement in those spaces are part of that equation, said Narayanan.

“We really believe that the safety of everyone on our streets cannot be taken for granted until and unless black people are able to move freely in public space without fear of police violence,” he said.

That point is underscored by Minneapolis’ more recent, pre-pandemic strides to improve light rail and bus services and bike corridors, including in underserved communities. “When we think about discrimination, it’s not always about facility access,” said Fan. “It’s also about the culture we have in this society.”