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How Minneapolis breweries are supporting protesters

Breweries in Minneapolis have become vital resources for food and medical supplies amid the greatest civil unrest in the US in half a century.

Modist Brewing in Minneapolis has provided first aid supplies to protesters. (Photo: Modist Brewing)

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to demand justice for the death of George Floyd in the past week.

Floyd died in Minneapolis on Monday 25 May while handcuffed as now-fired police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. Three other police officers at the scene looked on as Floyd, a black man, aged 42, suffocated.

“The protests began shortly after, and by Thursday things were starting to pick up and moving downtown,” Daniel Paul Wellendorf, Modist’s co-owner and head of marketing, told the drinks business on Thursday (4 June).

The movement has brought to a head long-standing issues of police brutality disproportionally affecting black communities in the US, especially in Minneapolis.

Things escalated on 28 May. During a press conference, authorities dashed hopes officers had been arrested for the death of the 46-year-old father of two. Lawmakers also put an 8pm curfew on the city’s residents to prevent further disruption as protests became violent.

“That was a tipping point for us and our community to say this is bullsh*t,” Wellendorf told db.

“Our community needs justice for George Floyd, and we need it now,” Modist Brewing wrote on its social media platforms that day.

“We are going to donate all of our proceeds from the time George Floyd was murdered, through the end of the month, directly to George Floyd’s family and the causes listed below. If there’s a ‘throw those cops in jail’ fund, we’ll contribute to that too.”

His first response as a business was to put out a public call for action to seek justice for Floyd’s family, but then, the team decided to hand out hotdogs to keep up volunteers’ morale.

“Not sure how many hot dogs we’ve gone through (a few dozen?),” he said, “but giving out hot dogs clearly wasn’t the goal, we just wanted to publicly show support.”

Footage of the protests have sent shockwaves around the world, as police have clashed with protesters and vice versa. Now countries such as the UK also face questions over the way police forces treat people of colour differently.

Modist has become drop-off point for food, medical supplies and baby essentials, and is distributing these throughout the city.

Asked how many people had been helped so far, Wellendorf said: “We get a couple dozen large donations a day and that all heads out to the community – so it’s probably in the hundreds.”

Modist was turned into a medical supply hub with the help of local rapper Nur-D (Mike Allen), who Wellendorf said started his music career at open mic nights at the brewery taproom. The original drop-off point for supplies was located by a police precinct which was burned down last week. The national guard then moved in, and took those supplies, the brewery owner said.

“He needed another stop to drop them off to help them provide care. We opened our space to him and he’s been the point of call for all of our volunteer efforts.”

Modist suspended home delivery service and said it would close its taproom two hours earlier than normal on 29 May amid safety concerns for both staff and customers.

Allen himself was arrested for curfew violations on Monday night while many gathered at the Capitol grounds in St. Paul to protest.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has so far infected 1.2 million people and killed more than 110,000 in the US, has inevitably complicated things further. Wellendorf said his team of volunteers all wear masks and gloves, and try to make sure “there are as few bodies as possible” in the brewery and taproom.

“Emotionally it’s taxing,” Wellendorf said, “but we’re doing what we can.”

Other breweries in the city have also called for action. One Fermentery, which opened last year and closed for the course of the week as protests escalated, is known in the area as a champion of diversity.

The founders took to Instagram to challenge people to take “some sort of positive action.”

“Educate yourselves about the history of inequality and injustice that has plagued POC for hundreds of years,” it said. “Financially support organisations that are doing the work to effect systemic change.”

Minneapolis’ Indeed Brewing sent an open letter to the police department on 29 May, saying it will no longer hold events that require off-duty police presence.

“We’re not saying no to having any police officers at the brewery, but we just recognise that the reputation of the police officers — the way that they will make many people feel, especially people who are oftentimes maybe marginalised in craft beer, or not people who feel super welcomed into the craft beer world because of the way craft beer can be,” co-owners Nathan Berndt and Tom Whisenand said.

“We can’t have people show up to these parties or walk up to Indeed and there be a person in the Minneapolis police officer uniform standing there.”

Another brewery, Dangerous Man, has also organised a cleanup crew for the south of the city to help clear the streets of rubble and broken glass after protests. It is also donating proceeds from beer sales to the family of George Floyd.

“If you live in an area that needs help or a clean up please message us at Dangerous Man,” Sara Bonvallet and Rob Miller posted on Facebook on 30 May.

Surly Brewing, located just west of the city centre, has run emergency food drives since the protests started.

“I can’t think of a brewery that hasn’t been outspoken”, Wellendorf said.

I’m talking to the Modist owner on 4 June, nine days after protests started. That evening, celebrities, musicians and political leaders gathered in front of Floyd’s casket for a memorial service. Police officer Derek Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Floyd. The three officers who failed to intervene while Floyd was killed were charged on Wednesday 3 June. Minneapolis Police have now banned the use of chokeholds as a means of restraining suspect.

Wellendorf said, for now, there’s a sense of closure creeping in for the residents of Minneapolis, but there’s still a long way to go.

“It seems to be heading into more peaceful direction. The [decision to charge the officers] was well received and now the focus of the protests can be on the other things that need to change.” He added that calling for resignation of police union chief Bob Kroll is just one of these.

“Some have said it’s a bold move, but to us we’re just taking the side of human rights. Period,”

“Breweries are part of the fabric of our society”, Wellendorf said.

“We host a lot of events in the community. Breweries have been a resource for the community, so we just showed up.”



If you would like to support protesters in Minneapolis, this document shares information on volunteer groups, groups you can donate to, petitions, and more.

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