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Minneapolis: Protest slams city demolition plans that will spread arsenic in community

By staff |
October 20, 2022
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Protest art at toxic site that endangers low income Minneapolis community.
Protest art at toxic site that endangers low income Minneapolis community. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Minneapolis, MN - On October 9, approximately 40 people gathered in the East Phillips neighborhood, at the Roof Depot building, a now abandoned facility that previously housed many polluting industries, to protest against the city of Minneapolis’s plans to demolish the building. 

Demolition would unearth this pollution and devastate the surrounding community. A key purpose of the rally was to educate the community about the dangers posed by the building’s destruction. This was achieved through speeches and the creation of protest art, which participants hung on the fenced perimeter of the facility.

The Roof Depot building sits on the famed “Arsenic Triangle” of South Minneapolis, polluted over the years by environmentally destructive industry. It also resides in one of the most Black, brown and indigenous areas of the city that is already subject to environmental destruction from its proximity to high-traffic roads and large industry. The city of Minneapolis is attempting to replace the abandoned building with a maintenance facility that will only bring more pollution into the area. 

During the community rally, speakers aired concerns about pollution the maintenance facility would bring to the community in addition to the mass quantities of arsenic released during the demolition process. 

Joe Vital from East Phillips Neighborhood Institute addressed the crowd, “East Phillips is such a blatant example of environmental racism,” adding that he members of the community “are concerned about what will happen when 888 new trucks are introduced in addition to the toxic arsenic in the area.” 

Cullom James McCormick, a member of the Climate Justice Committee, pointed out the hypocrisy of the city’s blatant disregard for pollution in East Phillips, declaring that it is “against the city’s stated goals of fighting environmental racism, food deserts and the ongoing public health crisis.” 

Key decisions regarding the future of the building are slated for discussion in city council as early as November. The Climate Justice Committee and East Phillips Neighborhood Institute will continue to fight against this plan and organize to protect communities against environmental destruction and racism.

The struggle in East Phillips

The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute and the East Phillips Improvement Coalition have had their eyes on the Roof Depot site since 2014, when its former owners put it up for sale. EPNI planned to transform the site into the urban farm project. Ultimately, the city ended up acquiring the building, demanding a hefty $14 million from EPNI if they wanted to take back the plot and use it for the farm project. This proved prohibitive for EPNI, and a political fight over the use of the site has followed ever since.

This fight has escalated over the last year as pandemic restrictions have lifted. More and more neighborhood residents have mobilized, and Twin Cities activists have taken note and joined in their fight, such as when a coalition of groups banded together on September 22 to disrupt the city council’s vote for a request for proposals to demolish the depot. This disruption was an attempt to forestall the entire process and disable the council from even voting to issue this request. Unfortunately, the council forced the request through as community members were literally shouting a statement on how hypocritical, racist and polluting the demolition project would be. https://www.instagram.com/tv/Ci0a-T1JNUi/?igshid=NzNkNDdiOGI=

As it stands, the deadline for proposals from demolition contractors is November 15. EPNI is collaborating with the Climate Justice Committee to ensure that the Depot remains standing - not only so that it can be rehabilitated, but so that East Phillips is not flooded with even more toxic emissions from the planned city site, which would involve 888 vehicles being serviced daily. The cumulative impacts of these vehicles combined with decades of existing urban pollution would further poison an already overburdened community where roughly 12% of residents have asthma from pollution. It’s blatant that the city is perfectly happy to poison a majority working-class and nonwhite neighborhood to satisfy land-grabbing developers. 

There will be a rally held outside of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s apartment on Thursday, October 27 at 5 p.m. in order to protest this ongoing environmental racism as well as tie it into ongoing scandals in his administration — like the $250 million that his close associates have defrauded from state funds meant to feed vulnerable children. 

The CJC is also collaborating with EPNI to offer a civil disobedience training on November 13 with an eye toward bodily blocking demolition equipment should that prove necessary. The training is slated to take place in the nearby majority-indigenous Little Earth housing area, which itself would be in range of the resulting emissions plume if the city gets its way.

For more information on the rally at Frey’s apartment and the upcoming civil disobedience trainings, follow and reach out to the Climate Justice Committee on Instagram under the handle @ClimateJusticeMN.