Twin Cities riots tests patience, nerves

Media covers disturbances; radio station burns down

In what is being described as one of the nation’s worst case of racial disturbances since the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul were hit with an orgy of rioting and looting for the last two nights over the death of African-American resident George Floyd by Minneapolis police. 

Floyd was arrested Monday in south Minneapolis and was seen on video with a police officer kneeling on his neck, killing him. After waiting several days, the officer was finally arrested Friday afternoon and charged. 

The four officers involved in the case were fired, but it didn’t stop protests from taking place and on Wednesday, those protests turned into vandalism and arson heading into evening. By Thursday, the chaos spread into St. Paul with cameras catching people smashing police cars with bricks and looting a Target store (another Target store was looted Wednesday near the area where Floyd was arrested.) Target is headquartered in Minneapolis.  

The rioting continued into Thursday night, attracting the attention of the cable news networks and local Chicago stations, who devoted more time to the story than they did the previous night. Live coverage showed the 3rd District police station on fire and fires burning through Minneapolis and St. Paul. President Trump went on Twitter slamming Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey and using language reminiscent of Richard J. Daley’s “shoot-to-kill” orders during the 1968 riots on Chicago’s West Side after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

On Friday, a CNN reporter who is of African-American and Latino decent was arrested on-air – provoking outage from many, reminding those of the journalists who were roughed up by Ferguson, Mo. police during the Michael Brown saga (of whom I referred to as the “Barney Fife Police Force”.) He was released an hour later and the Minnesota Governor had to apologize to CNN. 

Friday night, protests have spread to other cities across the country, including New York and Los Angeles. In Atlanta, CNN headquarters were vandalized. Here in Chicago, a protest shut down Ida B. Wells Drive, but no other serious incidents have taken place as of this writing. 

Local media kept viewers on top of the chaos with all four local news stations pre-empted programming Thursday night in the 15th-largest television market. 

CBS O&O WCCO-TV provided live coverage through its newly launched CBSN Minnesota news channel while live coverage could also be accessed from the websites of Fox-owned KMSP and Hubbard’s ABC affiliate KSTP – however, the latter suffered from buffering glitches. 

NBC affiliate KARE was the biggest fail of the evening, with the Tegna-owned station failing to provide a link to its live coverage on the front page of its website. 

Also keeping tabs were Entercom’s WCCO-AM; MPR;  the websites of the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press; and alt-news City Pages. 

Outside of the CNN incident, there were no attacks on the media covering the event (as opposed to the ’92 L.A. riots, where local stations’ and CNN’s vans and equipment were damaged and vandalized), but one local radio station lost its facilities. Situated in the area near the 3rd police district headquarters, the studios of Spanish-language KMNV-FM (branded as La Raza 95.7) were lost in the fires. Via Facebook, the station – which employs a Regional Mexican music format, stated the following in both English and Spanish: “As you may already know, the building where our facilities were located was burned down by the same horde that looted dozens of businesses along Lake St. without the authorities intervening to contain them. Right now we are evaluating the options we have and through social media we will be informing you.”

The station was located on the corner of Lake and 27th Avenue and is owned by Santamaria Broadcasting. It was knocked off the air Wednesday evening as their power was cut and is not broadcasting online. 

Whether the impact of these riots on the Minneapolis-St. Paul market remains to be seen. Already, the area’s television and radio stations were suffering from ad cancellations due to Covid-19, as businesses were forced to close amid the pandemic as top-rated WCCO-TV was able to escape the layoffs other CBS-owned stations endured earlier in the week. Before the pandemic, the Twin Cities was generally regarded as one of the strongest media markets in the Midwest, compared to struggling peers Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cleveland as each have lost population within the last decade – even as crime has been an issue in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Whether the Twin Cities can maintain that strength now seems to be in question. 

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