Protest Hotspots Prepare for 2020 Election Chaos
“Election night is not really my concern; it’s after election night that is my concern.”
American cities are preparing for civil unrest during and after Election Day, as the specter of turmoil looms over a nation divided and President Trump reportedly plans to declare a premature victory Tuesday night if he’s “ahead,” despite uncounted ballots.
Some urban areas readying for chaos include Minneapolis, where clashes erupted this summer after the killing of George Floyd, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, where 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot two protesters, and injured a third, during a fiery demonstration against the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
The city of Kenosha—where Trump planned one final campaign rally Monday night—said it would install police officers at City Hall and polling places.
In New York, high-end shops in Manhattan also braced for political protests and potential looting by covering windows with plywood, even as Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city wasn’t directing business owners to do so. “We do not have any specific reports or specific threats at this point,” de Blasio said on Monday. “Everyone, of course, is concerned about the election results and what plays out after.”
Indeed, the results of one recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll revealed 3 out of 4 voters worried about Election Day violence, while only 1 in 4 were “very confident” they’d see a peaceful transfer of power should Democrat Joe Biden defeat Trump.
The story was similar elsewhere in the country: Walmart pulled firearms and ammunition from its shelves days before the election before reversing course; Beverly Hills cops will put Rodeo Drive on lockdown; the feds plan to erect a massive fence around the White House; and the Department of Justice is sending prison guards to Washington, D.C. for crowd control.
Officials in Denver, Colorado, created a police command post specifically for potential post-election violence. “Election night is not really my concern; it’s after election night that is my concern,” Denver Department of Public Safety Executive Director Murphy Robinson told reporters last week, according to the Denver Post.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her city has prepared for election-related protests and unrest since the summer. Plans to curb violence include increased police patrols and the use of dump trucks and other heavy vehicles as blockades.
“No matter the outcomes of [the] elections, we all know that emotions will be high because they already are, and I urge you to channel those emotions into peaceful and productive expressions,” Lightfoot said at a press conference last week.
Multiple states, including New Jersey, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, enacted the National Guard to assist local election officials or otherwise remain on standby. In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers said 400 troops would be deployed—as poll workers in civilian attire—due to a shortage of staffers as COVID-19 ravages the battleground state.
Trump paid a final visit to Wisconsin on Monday, at the Kenosha Regional Airport. Hours before the rally, Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian told reporters he worried Trump’s event would only cause the virus to spread.
Just two months ago, Kenosha was in flames after a Kenosha cop shot Blake, an unarmed Black man, seven times and paralyzed him. Some businesses boarded up their buildings in the wake of the violent protests and kept the barriers up in anticipation of the election.
Kenosha officials told the Associated Press they feared armed civilians, like Rittenhouse, could return if there’s unrest surrounding the results. “I’m always going to be concerned about violence. But at this point it’s all speculation,” Andy Berg, a member of the Kenosha County board of supervisors, told the AP.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Antaramian said the city would deploy police officers to City Hall and polling stations.
“The safety of Kenosha residents, visitors and business owners remains our top priority, and we have been working closely with the police department and our counterparts in the Kenosha County government to ensure safety measures are in place,” Antaramian said. “Police officers will be at City Hall and monitoring each polling place.
“We ask that everyone remain peaceful, and if anyone has questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out,” the mayor concluded.
Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, residents shared photos on social media of businesses boarding up their facades and corporations barricading their properties. Police and city officials say they’ve built a contingency plan and remain on alert for “future flashpoints” as they increase law enforcement’s presence.
“As with any time when activity may be higher than normal in Minneapolis, there is increased police presence. The election is no different,” the city said in a statement. “Throughout election week, a multi-agency law enforcement operation will be in place in Minneapolis and across the metro area. The Minneapolis Police Department is working in close collaboration with local, state and federal law enforcement partners.”
“Law enforcement personnel will be highly visible in business corridors and across the entire city to prevent and quickly respond to any acts of civil unrest or illegal actions that threaten the safety of our residents and businesses while preserving the right to First Amendment free speech activity,” the statement continued.
John Elder, Director of Police Information, added, “We are aware of current and future possible flashpoints that present challenges on both a local and national level. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, local, regionally and federally in order to properly respond to situations as they unfold.
“Additionally, we are keeping lines of communication open with the communities we serve and working with everyone we can to ensure 1st Amendment rights are preserved and providing a safe environment for all,” Elder said in a statement. “We continue to plan for the worst and hope for the best!”
Sarah McKenzie, a city spokeswoman, said election officials will deploy a “sergeant-at-arms” at each Minneapolis polling site to “help ensure an orderly voting process.” She noted these monitors are not law enforcement and do not carry weapons.
The death of Floyd, who was killed after a Minneapolis cop kneeled on his neck for nine minutes, sparked a national movement to dismantle or defund America’s police departments because of their deadly encounters with people of color.
In Minneapolis, city councilors led a high-profile push to replace the police force with a new agency, but some council members now say they regret it and the effort has fallen apart. The city Charter Commission stymied the council’s proposal, saying the measure required further review, and kept it off the November ballot.
With the unrest over Floyd still fresh in their minds, business owners in the Twin Cities said they’re taking measures out of an abundance of caution. In St. Paul, storefronts on Grand Avenue remained open but fortified with plywood.
According to the Pioneer Press, Nelson Fox, the owner of a marketing agency, advised Grand Avenue store managers to be prepared.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, I don’t think any of us do, but given the events over the summer, better safe than sorry,” Fox said.