Walz, DFL activists clash over National Guard and police response to unrest

Union activists taunted Minnesota National Guard soldiers this week and Democratic lawmakers tried to ban the use of tear gas as a crowd control tactic, showing the escalating tension between Gov. Tim Walz and his party's left flank.

Wednesday night, a small crowd of activists taunted Guardsmen with chants of "Hey, hey hey, goodbye!" as the soldiers were kicked out of the St. Paul Labor Center. The incident has led to infighting within the labor community and has drawn widespread condemnation.

Meanwhile, local and state lawmakers are pushing to restrict how police can control protests than can turn violent quickly, as they did in Brooklyn Center this week after the police killing of Daunte Wright, a Black man, during a traffic stop.

Walz and his public safety officials have sent 3,000 National Guard soldiers into the Twin Cities this week to quell the Brooklyn Center unrest and in preparation for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, which could come next week.

The governor has said it's his ultimate responsibility to maintain order and avoid a repeat of the 2020 rioting, when left more than $500 million in property damage and a Minneapolis police precinct burned.

Wednesday night, activists descended on the St. Paul Labor Center after learning that a few dozen National Guard soldiers had been given access to use the building as a staging area.

Activists streamed the video on Facebook and are heard shouting "Bon voyage!" and "Never come back!" as the soldiers leave the labor center.

Several politicians on both sides of the aisle criticized the union activists after the incident came to light.

"This is unacceptable," Walz, a former National Guard soldier, tweeted.

Friday, the labor community dueled over the treatment of the soldiers. Minnesota AFL-CIO president Bill McCarthy said he respected the National Guard but images of troops using the St. Paul Labor Center as a staging area were "deeply disturbing."

At least three other unions condemned the activists. One of them, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, said it was ending its affiliation with the Minnesota AFL-CIO over the incident.

Meanwhile, five Democratic House members said they were introducing legislation to ban police from using tear gas, chemical agents and other nonlethal munitions.

"Using chemical weapons and less-lethal rounds on a grieving crowd exercising their constitutionally-protected rights is cruel and escalatory," said state Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis.

Walz has endorsed the use of tear gas in Brooklyn Center this week as necessary to protect people and property.

Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering, who is the head of the Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association, said that officers responding from other cities had been hurt by the crowd in Brooklyn Center.

"As police chiefs, we cannot allow our officers to be injured by individuals trying to disrupt your community's right for peaceful protest," Revering said at a chaotic Brooklyn Center City Council meeting Thursday night that centered on police tactics.

Brooklyn Center's City Council has banned the use of tear gas, but outside agencies under the multi-jurisdictional Operation Safety Net force -- including the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, Minnesota State Patrol and National Guard -- are not restricted by the city's resolution. That led to uncertainty whether Brooklyn Center would force the other agencies to leave.

After a two-hour, closed-door meeting left the public in the dark about city officials' plans, Acting City Manager Reggie Edwards said Brooklyn Center would continue using mutual aid.

"Cooperation with state and local government is critical to providing safety for all of our Brooklyn Center residents," Edwards said in an emailed statement sent by the city's newly hired public relations firm.

Nevertheless, the debate over tear gas continued Friday when Minneapolis City Council voted 11-1 to oppose use of nonlethal munitions against a crowd. The resolution has no real effect because Mayor Jacob Frey -- not the council -- has operational control of Minneapolis Police.

Walz said Thursday that tear gas and other munitions were used this week to avoid the Brooklyn Center police station going down in flames, like the Minneapolis Police third precinct did in May 2020.