‘Fuck ’Em Up’: Bodycam Video Shows Minneapolis Police ‘Hunting’ Protesters

The footage shows what happened immediately before Minneapolis Police confronted a VICE News TV crew.
October 7, 2021, 4:39pm
A Minneapolis riot cop points a weapon on and advances on protesters and press during the protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 30, 2020.
A Minneapolis riot cop points a weapon on and advances on protesters and press during the protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 30, 2020. (Photo: Michael Anthony Adams/VICE News)

Body-worn camera footage released this week shows Minneapolis Police bragging about “hunting” protesters with rubber bullets during demonstrations in the days following the police murder of George Floyd.

In the videos, which were obtained by a Minnesota lawyer and provided to the Minnesota Reformer, officers appear to treat the streets of Minneapolis like an active war zone, and protesters like enemy combatants.

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“These guys are pussies,” one officer says to Sgt. Andrew Bittell, whose body camera captured one of the videos released. “You get within 30 feet of them and they run.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Bittell responds. “You got to hit them with the 40s,” referring to rubber bullets fired from 40mm grenade-launchers.

In another video, Minneapolis Police Officer Michael Osbeck is approached by another officer, identified by the Minnesota Reformer as Lt. Johnny Mercil, who says, "Fuck these media." Mercil continues, as if speaking to a journalist, “Hold on a second, let me check your credentials, make a few phone calls, just to verify who the fuck you are.”

“They think they can do whatever they want,” Osbeck responds.

“There’s a fucking curfew right now,” Mercil says, despite journalists being exempt from the curfew.

Some officers even appeared to see their role during those nights as hunters on an expedition.

“Tonight it was just nice to hear, ‘We’re going to go find some more people,’ instead of chasing people around,” one officer off camera can be heard saying. “We’re going out hunt—you guys are out hunting people now, and it’s just a nice change of tempo.”

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VICE News experienced some of this behavior firsthand. On the night of May 30, 2021, as protests over the killing of George Floyd five days earlier were reaching their peak, a group of ​​VICE News journalists decided to spend time with the owners of a business which had already been ransacked twice during the demonstrations.

Assad and Cindy Awaijane, who own the Stop-N-Shop at 17th and Lake streets, had decided that, despite losing everything inside their store, they weren’t going to let the building burn. People from the neighborhood weren’t going to let that happen either. As the city-imposed curfew approached, the Awaijane family, joined by a group of friends from the community, set up camp in front of their store to keep the chaos happening just beyond their parking lot in check.

Shortly after 10 p.m., a skirmish between protestors and heavily armed cops took place in front of the Stop-N-Shop. Police fired tear gas canisters and baton rounds at anything that moved. One caught a VICE News producer in the lower back, below his rib cage, while filming people attempting to throw some of the smoking cans back at police

The showdown lasted about 30 minutes before things quieted down. But the brief calm was fleeting. Not long after officers had left and the protestors dispersed did a horde of more police vehicles arrive. This time, though, the Stop-N-Shop was their target.

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At least a dozen officers jumped out of squad cars, SUVs, and a white van, and began firing at the Awaijanes and their friends, who’d come to help them protect their business. VICE News journalists were also targeted, even after repeatedly identifying themselves to police as press.

The newly released video now shows what happened immediately before the incident. A half-mile away, under the Lake Street light rail station, the same cops who would later storm the Awaijane’s store were caught on Sgt. Bittell’s body camera milling about in their riot gear, waiting for their next “mission.”

“We just fucked them up and now we’re leaving,” an officer, who appears to be in command, was captured saying to someone over the phone.

“Let’s find a problem on our own instead of chasing our tail,” another officer says to Bittell.

“We’re going to be the head of the snake now, because we’re going to go back that way,” Bittell responds, pointing in the direction of the Stop-N-Shop.

The commanding officer, now off the phone, instructs the men to take their strike teams, split up, and drive down Lake Street.

“Fuck ’em up. Gas them. Fuck ’em up.”

“You see a fucking group? Call it out,” the video captures him saying. “Fuck ’em up. Gas them. Fuck ’em up.”

Bittell then gives the orders to his own men who are waiting for him beside the white, unmarked van.

“Alright, we’re rollin’ down Lake Street,” Bittell says. “The first fuckers we see, just hammer them with 40s.”

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“Yes, sir!” one officer responds.

The convoy then begins its patrol on Lake Street. Bittell radios out to the other squad cars not to use lights and sirens.

“It’s like a slow jog in the park—finding people,” he says, followed by laughter from his men.

Minutes later, as Bittell’s van is slow-rolling down Lake, he spots a group of people in the parking lot of Stop-N-Shop.

“Right in here. Right in here,” he says to the officer driving, pointing at the Stop-N-Shop. “Right here in this parking lot.”

“Go! Go! Go!” Bittel says quicker and louder than he was speaking before. “Get up there! Get up there!”

As the van pulls up in front of the Stop-N-Shop, Bittell screams, “Let them have it, boys! Let them have it.” A volley of nonlethal gunfire follows. Rubber bullets ping off gas pumps, accompanied by officers screaming in unison for those in the parking lot to “get down!”

VICE News’ cameras were rolling as the officers advanced, guns drawn and pointed at our team. Police told us, despite being clearly identified as press, to get on the ground, and they continued to shoot foam baton rounds into the lot.

“Right there!” Bittell yells to his men on the body camera footage. “Get ‘em! Get ‘em! Get ‘em! Hit ‘em! Hit ‘em!”

Police had cornered the ​​the Awaijanes’ son, Bobby, who was 23 at the time, and sprayed him with a healthy dose of pepper spray in his face as he was on his hands and knees.

“Hey! That’s my son!” Assad Awaijane, who can be heard on the video, pleaded with them. “That’s my son! That’s my son!”

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Both Assad and Bobby Awaijane were eventually released and allowed to go inside the Stop-N-Shop.

“Officers at 17th and Lake, get all these people inside the building,” Bittell said over the radio, before ordering the rest of the cops on scene to “mount up.”

The confrontation was over in less than 5 minutes, but has changed the Awaijane’s view on law enforcement forever.

“I thought maybe it was an accident,” Assad Awaijane told VICE News in a phone interview after the videos were released. “But after seeing that, it was really directed at us.”

Before the protests, Minneapolis Police officers would often stop by the Stop-N-Shop for coffee and food. Assad became friends with many of them. He never thought he’d be treated this way by people he said he trusted.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “All my family, all my friends that were there doing good for me and for the business, and to have that happen to them because [police] have a vendetta. They want to get anybody that’s on the street, but not everybody on the street is a criminal.”