The Best Moment of 2020: The Burning of the Third Precinct

By Hamilton Nolan – Dec 15, 2020

Everything else was bad

This year, wretched as it was, was not steadi­ly wretched from begin­ning to end. It was more like a wave, crest­ing right at the edge of opti­mism before crash­ing down hard and wash­ing every­thing back out to the black and hope­less sea. It’s espe­cial­ly easy to remem­ber the high points in a year like this: They were brief moments when events broke the heavy pull of grav­i­ty and rose up, before falling back down again.

On Feb­ru­ary 22, under bright and mild blue skies, I went to a plush casi­no on the Las Vegas strip and watched hotel work­ers vote over­whelm­ing­ly for Bernie Sanders in the Neva­da cau­cus. Bernie won by a mile, and there was a swelling sense of ela­tion — this was our time. He stood, that day, as the clear favorite for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion, the man who was poised to sweep away our grotesque leader and ush­er in a new age of humane progress. Joe Biden’s cam­paign vol­un­teers were stay­ing at my hotel, and I remem­ber look­ing at them with pity as they stood around in their Biden shirts in the lob­by, a sad bunch of mis­fits fruit­less­ly try­ing to res­ur­rect a long-dead dream. The peo­ple pow­er was on our side. The atmos­phere was gid­dy. There were cel­e­bra­tions. There were crowds. Every­thing was open, and you could see, just down the road, the world that we want­ed, just waiting.

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One month lat­er, Joe Biden had the nom­i­na­tion well in hand. The Las Vegas strip had been shut­tered, along with every­thing else. The mighty Culi­nary Union, whose mem­bers ran the casi­no indus­try, was suf­fer­ing from 98% unem­ploy­ment. New York City was in lock­down, the pan­dem­ic had begun to rage, and our bizarre nation­al night­mare of sick­ness and death and soli­tude and dev­as­ta­tion was begin­ning to unfurl in all of its hor­rif­ic majesty.

And it’s been pret­ty bad since then. The year teased us with false hope, then snatched it away and unveiled a grind­ing, cease­less cal­en­dar of monot­o­ny stirred togeth­er with tragedy. Even mod­est­ly good events like Trump’s elec­tion loss or the mak­ing of vac­cines were leav­ened with the heavy knowl­edge that there is an alter­nate world where they would have turned out much, much better.

There is only one moment in 2020 that stands out as one of undi­lut­ed ela­tion. That moment came on the night of May 28, three days after George Floyd was killed by police. The protests that would soon sweep the nation were still cen­tered in Min­neapo­lis. Around 10:00 p.m. that night, I sat a thou­sand miles away, slack­jawed, watch­ing a live stream of riot police evac­u­at­ing from the Third Precinct head­quar­ters. The cops all scur­ried away, and pro­test­ers pro­ceed­ed to burn down the police station.

RELATED CONTENT: Minneapolis Approves Replacing Police With a Community-Run Public Security System

The cops ran away and the pro­test­ers burned down the police sta­tion. That was one of the coolest fuck­ing things I’ve ever seen.

Is that imma­ture? I don’t care. The cops ran away. The peo­ple burned down the police sta­tion. Take that! Stu­pid cops! If the sheer cin­e­mat­ic gall of such a thing does not fill you with some lev­el of delight, you are too mature. You have allowed an impor­tant part of you to die. I pity you. You see, nor­mal­ly, cops chase peo­ple. Police come into our homes and do what they want. In this case, the peo­ple chased the police. And they went into the police’s home, and they burned it the fuck down. Now do you see? This was beau­ty. This was, for a few hours at least, the tri­umph of hope. It was like watch­ing a very ephemer­al war being won. I do not care that one of the peo­ple lat­er indict­ed for this was a right winger — that just makes that night a very rare exam­ple of the entire polit­i­cal spec­trum achiev­ing a com­mon goal. I do not care to hear any ratio­nal argu­ments about what such an action did or did not accom­plish” in a cold, ana­lyt­i­cal sense. Life is full of injus­tices large and small, of pow­er­ful insti­tu­tions that sub­ject us to all man­ner of unnec­es­sary incon­ve­niences and out­rages, and noth­ing embod­ies this per­pet­u­al state of unfair­ness more than a police sta­tion. Some­times it is nec­es­sary to see the pow­er of the peo­ple in action, just to feel alive. I will tell you what this action accom­plished: It was awe­some. We all need­ed that.

This was a bad year. But it was also the year that the cops ran away, and peo­ple burned down the police sta­tion. I guess you nev­er can tell when your luck is going to turn around.




Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at

(In These Times)

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