Armed with AR-15 rifles and sporting bulletproof vests, members of the Minnesota Freedom Fighters (MNFF), a Black self-defense group formed after the death of George Floyd, describe themselves as a “bridge” between the police and the African-American community.
“We’re trying to show the world that we can protect our people also with arms and weapons and be trustworthy,” Randy Chrisman, a 30-year-old MNFF member, told AFP.
“Basically we want to change the narrative of Black people carrying weapons,” said Chrisman, who has been patrolling Minneapolis since last summer, when Floyd died while being arrested by a white police officer.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, was seen on video with his knee on the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, for nearly nine minutes.
Chauvin is currently on trial charged with murder and manslaughter and faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.
Floyd’s death sparked weeks of anti-racism protests in Minneapolis and riots and looting which destroyed a number of downtown businesses and a police precinct.
In a mission statement on their Facebook page, the MNFF described itself as “an elite security unit dedicated to protect the citizens and businesses of the Minneapolis urban areas.
“Our objective is not to be the police, but the bridge to link the police and the community together,” it says.
“We’re tired of being looked at as gang members because we have guns,” said Chrisman, a father of two children who works as a personal care assistant. “We’re tired of being looked at like the enemy because of our skin color.
“When George Floyd happened, that’s when we knew for a fact that we had to protect the community,” Chrisman said.
“We were getting calls saying that white supremacists were going to come in and pretty much destroy the whole community,” he said. “They are going to set businesses on fire, they are going to break windows. They are going to vandalize the whole community.”
‘Not trigger-happy people’
The MNFF was created after the local branch of the civil rights group the NAACP put out a call for residents to help protect local businesses.
Chrisman and another 20 Black licensed owners of firearms were among those who responded.
They jointly patrolled a main commercial street in a historically Black neighborhood of north Minneapolis and had “encounters” with white supremacists, said another member of the group who wanted to be identified only by his nickname, “Step Child.”
“We were engaged with the perpetrators of violence,” Step Child, 45, said, declining to offer any further details.
The members of MNFF are aged between 25 and 55 and from different backgrounds. They include a truck driver, a basketball coach and a real estate agent.
They have provided security during memorial events for George Floyd and for anti-racism protests.
“We became an unofficial security group,” Step Child said. “When there’s a possibility of a threat they would call us and we would lead the march.”
MNFF members do cardio exercise, practice martial arts, target practice and combat training.
They are also versed in techniques designed to deescalate tense situations.
“We’re not trigger-happy people,” Chrisman said. “Nobody wants to fire shots.”
He said the community trusts them to act responsibly with their firearms, which also provide an element of “deterrence.”
“Deterrence is also a concept with carrying firearms,” said Step Child. “That is helpful to keep people safe.”
The Freedom Fighters said they have a good relationship with the police as the “bridge” to Black communities for law enforcement.
The police department did not repond to questions about MNFF from AFP.
Like the city authorities, members of the group are apprehensive about the verdict in the Chauvin trial expected in late April or early May.
“If he is found not guilty, a lot of people will be upset,” Chrisman said. “Unfortunately I believe we are going to have to be called up.
“I don’t know if it’s a riot or if it’s an attack, but I just feel like it could be anything,” he said. “You got to be prepared.”