Cedar-Riverside community members came together over the last week while protests and riots have erupted throughout Minneapolis.
After a then-Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, riots led to lootings and fires in the city. But neighbors in Cedar-Riverside, home to the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus, mobilized a neighborhood watch to prevent further destruction in their community.
The closure of city buses and many essential businesses in the area have left residents stranded without transportation or food. Mixed Blood Theatre was repurposed as a temporary food shelf for residents needing grocery and hygiene products.
“My role is to model some leadership and guidance and to be there in case we need to deal with the law and those in power,” said Cedar-Riverside community member and neighborhood watchman Burhan Israfael. “[I want] to protect our own safety and to protect the merit of what’s taking place.”
Sisco Omar, Mixed Blood Theatre’s Cedar-Riverside community organizer, said the watch group was started by a number of young adults who had an existing group chat where they planned meetings to respond to tragic events happening in the community.
The neighborhood watch’s main location is at Mixed Blood Theatre. But when the temporary citywide curfew goes into effect, two groups station near areas where cars enter Cedar-Riverside by residential high rises. Others patrol areas within the neighborhood, including the Somali mall and the light rail.
“We are not equipped with guns,” Omar said. “But at least we can get our people out on time if [a fire] were to happen.”
Since starting the neighborhood watch, residents say Cedar-Riverside has not come into contact with anyone looking to cause harm to the community.
“The closest call that we got was when the protesters marched through Cedar Avenue Saturday night, I believe,” Israfael said. “Young people played a great role as mediators and were able to really guide the marchers through.”
Anna Lohse, co-owner of Hard Times Cafe in Cedar-Riverside, posted to Facebook over the weekend that the protection of Cedar-Riverside was entirely a community effort.
“... the police did not protect us last [night], WE DID,” the post reads. “The neighborhood youths riding bikes in circles checking in on groups did. … The groups on rooftops communicating with us on the ground did. The elders handing out Somali tea did.”
Cedar-Riverside community members Kaaha Kaahiye and Fartuun Salad helped organize the food drive at Mixed Blood Theatre. In a single day, they were able to fill two floors of the theater with supplies.
Salad said the outreach has been primarily directed toward elders, disabled residents and those who have children and may be unable to travel amid mass transit closures in the city.
“We’ve literally been turning away donations and volunteers. It’s been really amazing,” Salad said. “I think this is one thing that COVID-19 and George Floyd’s death have really highlighted — that we need to come together stronger as a community. And I feel that the Cedar-Riverside community has really done that.”
Kaahiye said the closeness of the Cedar-Riverside community enabled the food drive to rapidly reach maximum capacity mostly by word-of-mouth, despite not being a part of various food shelf directories circulating the city.
“Mixed Blood Theatre has always been a place for the community of Cedar-Riverside,” Kaahiye said. “They have always invited people to come and use their space for anything … [How long we will be around] just depends on the community’s needs.”