While sharing plans to beef up security ahead of potential unrest, the city of Minneapolis said it is reversing its decision to hire “social media influencers” to help spread information during former officer Derek Chauvin’s trial for the killing of George Floyd.
David Rubedor, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations Department, apologized on Monday for last week’s announced hirings, saying that these individuals would not have been tasked with influencing the public, as the word “influencer” suggests, but with communicating about things like lane closures and security alerts.
“This was never about trying to persuade or change public opinion about any particular message, but it was about getting important information out quickly and in an equitable way,” he said. “While I believe and support the intention of this recommendation, we have seen that the impact has caused harm in our communities, and for that, I am sorry.”
The city announced last week that it would pay six social media influencers $2,000 each to help spread information during the trial, targeting Black, Native American, Somali, Hmong and Latinx communities, as local station WCCO reported. Rubedor said residents in these communities had complained of not receiving information and resources that they needed that are available through the city.
The name “social media influencer,” however, immediately launched propaganda concerns and distrust within the community, which is still reeling from the death of Floyd, who was Black.
Toussaint Morrison, one local community organizer who plans to provide grassroots coverage of the trial, was among those expressing concern that the influencers’ messages would be biased.
Speaking with HuffPost on Monday, he said he remained unswayed by the city’s apology and wanted to see more physical work done to repair trust within the community.
“Their gesture to hire social media influencers to speak to the community shows you how bad the trust has gotten,” he said, emphasizing that if you’re in a relationship, “you don’t hire people to rebuild the trust.”
“The relationship’s done,” he said.
Morrison suggested the city use the money allocated to these “influencers” for free meals, sending counselors to housing encampments and sending police officers to talk with people and not enforce anything.
“When you break the trust with someone, you can’t just say I’m going to be here, can you meet me,” he said. “You have to clean up the mess that you made.”
Chauvin faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges after putting his knee on Floyd’s neck during an arrest last May. Floyd died, launching nationwide racial justice protests that were largely peaceful.
Minneapolis city officials said Monday that they plan to have over a dozen law enforcement agencies from across the state assisting with public safety during and after Chauvin’s trial. The city plans to fully deploy law enforcement and National Guard soldiers during the trial’s closing arguments and verdict, expected around mid to late April, said Commander Scott Gerlicher of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Special Operation and Intelligence Division at Monday’s presentation.
“We will be in place and ready to prevent and restore any issues until we are no longer needed. That could be a period of a very short time, or however long that needs to be, we will be there,” said Gerlicher.
The soldiers and law enforcement officers are meant to focus on protecting property and accompanying fire and EMS crews responding to emergency calls. The soldiers and state troopers will also work to prevent vehicles from entering specific areas to protect pedestrians and officers, Gerlicher said.
“Setting fires, damaging property, assault or riotous actions towards anybody and illegal weapons, throwing objects — these are all things that we just cannot tolerate and that our operation is designed to address,” he said.