On the morning of Wednesday, July 14, 2021, clean-up crews hired by Seven Points, a shopping mall in Uptown, Minneapolis, cleared up the Wince Marie Peace Garden. The garden, built by activists, was a commemorative space in remembrance of the murders of Winston Smith and Deona Marie Erickson. Smith was murdered by a U.S. Marshal task force on June 3, 2021, in an Uptown parking ramp. Marie Erickson was killed a few days later while protesting Smith’s murder outside the parking ramp where Smith was killed, when a driver plowed his car into activists. The garden was built in an empty lot, between the parking garage where Smith was murdered and the intersection where Marie Erickson was killed.
Seven Points Uptown released a statement that they were removing the garden in collaboration with the City and key stakeholders, citing violence and road closures due to protests. But the garden and the protests against police violence were always an eyesore for the affluent property owners in Uptown who repeatedly tried to whitewash its presence, as detailed in this CBS Minnesota pro-counterinsurgency narrative by Caroline Cummings.
Private Security Guards Arrest Activists
That night and the next day, private security guards hired by Seven Points Uptown arrested at least three activists showing us the lengths that the ruling class will go to in order to protect their interests.
On the night of July 14, 2021, private security guards outside the parking ramp were filmed by activists assaulting a woman. The woman, who later identified herself as Hayley, said she was there in response to a call by other activists to show up and support those condemning the dismantling of the garden. She said she was talking to the security guards, who did not let her through and then proceeded to assault her. Hayley said that the arresting guard punched her in the head multiple times, and another one put her in a chokehold. Hayley recalled that she had to mace one of the guards and fight them off in order to get away from them. By this time, others present had started filming the assault while also raising an alarm. Hayley reported that the security personnel verified they had been hired by Seven Points. She said the police who were less than half a block away did not intervene while private security guards assaulted her, despite the commotion caused by it.
The next day, Tony, a community activist, went up to talk to the guards about who they were and why they had assaulted Hayley. Tony told Left Voice that as he was talking to one of the guards, another guard (whom Tony identified as Nathan Seabrook) came up behind him. Meanwhile, the guard whom Tony was talking to grabbed his bike. By that time, two other guards arrived on the scene and escorted him to the parking ramp. He said, “I had no choice but to go in the direction they were taking me. They didn’t tell me to leave but told me that I was under arrest for trespassing.” He recalled that the guards removed his belongings, including his wallet, from his pocket without his permission. He said, “They forgot to remove my phone. So I called my wife and put her on speaker. They got real mad at me and said that they won’t have any of that. They took my phone.” Tony said that his wife alerted others who gathered outside the parking ramp. He said that one of the guards finally handed him his phone back and instructed him to call his wife and tell her that he was safe. Tony did not comply with those orders. He said that he was released about an hour after he was detained with a “letter of trespass.”
Later that day, another activist who goes by the name Comrade Link on Twitter filmed a private security officer arresting him outside the ramp. While talking to Left Voice, Link said that as he approached the private security guards, he noticed that a police officer was also on site. Link said, “I was upset about Hayley being accosted the night before and I wanted to know what was going on and the name of the company.” In the video, Link can be seen walking up to the ramp while inquiring about Hayley being assaulted by the officers the night before. A guard (later identified as Nathan Seabrook) asks him to leave and then immediately says that he is arresting Link for being on private property. Link said that his hands were cuffed in zip ties and that he was detained in the parking ramp before being taken to the precinct, where he was booked for trespassing, then released. He said the entire process took about seven hours.
On July 16, 2021, while activists were speaking at a rally against Seven Points Uptown and CRG in Bryant Park, Minneapolis police kettled and arrested activists and at least one medic due to alleged reports of a suspicious package across the street. It was unclear if the existence of the said package was ever verified. Violet, a community activist who was there, spoke to Left Voice. She questioned why cops were antagonizing activists at Bryant Park when the report of the suspicious package was across the street.
Nathan Seabrook and Conflict Resolution Group
Link said that the guard who arrested him showed him his ID, which is how he was able to identify him as Nathan Seabrook. Tony also identified one of the guards who arrested him as Seabrook. Seabrook owns the ironically named security company Conflict Resolution Group (CRG). Shortly after Seabrook’s identity was discussed on social media, webpages linking to him were swiftly taken down, including a reference to his board membership on We Care International and a recent interview on the The Fearless Mindset podcast.
We Care International claims to work “exclusively for charitable purposes” but has $0 gross receipts and assets on GuideStar and is not scored on Charity Navigator. IRS tax documents show that it claims its charitable status due to receiving a substantial portion of its support from the government or the general public. This, along with their very vague mission statement and lack of much public information about them, raises questions about what this organization is or does.
In the now-deleted podcast interview, Seabrook talks about jumping on the private security contractor bandwagon after an almost two-decade-long career in the Army and National Guard. Referring to the George Floyd uprising and protests following it, Seabrook lamented that Minnesota had turned into a “shit hole.” Seabrook and the interviewer also discussed how cops were resigning in record numbers, creating an environment for private security companies to come in to protect private property.
Citizen’s Arrest Laws – A Relic of Colonial Times
The story of Nathan Seabrook and his private cops detaining activists may sound jarring and illegal, but citizen’s arrests are perfectly legal in Minnesota and in most of the United States. Laws permitting private citizens to arrest or detain people suspected of committing a crime exist in all 50 states. In addition to laws that allow actual cops to violently police community members, citizen’s arrest laws give a broad range of powers to civilians to detain anyone they witness committing a “public offense.” Minnesota statutes also allow a private person to break open a door or window of a house while trying to arrest someone suspected of committing a felony, if they are refused entry after announcing their intention to make a citizen’s arrest. Minnesota law also states that if the arrested person escapes, the arresting private citizen may pursue and recapture a person “at any time and in any place in the state.”
If these laws sound overly permissive, it is because they are. A relic of colonial times, citizen arrest laws were designed to help catch runaway slaves and maintain the oppression of Black people, who were private property at the time. Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law was the justification offered by Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers after they chased him down in broad daylight and killed him. The Georgia law, although since “repealed,” still allows “employees at businesses, those conducting business on someone else’s property, security officers, private investigators, and inspectors at truck scales to detain someone they believe has committed a crime.”
If the races were reversed in a case like Arbery’s and a person of color (who was not a private cop) tried to make a citizen’s arrest of a white person, it is unlikely that the situation would end without any violence committed against that person of color, either by the person being arrested or by cops who might show up at the scene.
The private property-protecting nature of policing—beholden to the racist-capitalist ruling class—is what makes both citizens and police arrests inherently unjust. White supremacists and cops often collaborate to discipline the working class and the oppressed. A recent example of this was how easily Trump supporters were able to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021, with barely any resistance from law enforcement. This was a huge contrast to the brutal state repression against protestors during the multiethnic George Floyd uprising and the following protests against police violence.
Private Military and Security Companies Sell War for Profit
Private military and security companies are a multibillion dollar industry that has thrived on protecting ruling class interests abroad as well as in the United States, while reducing the commitment and liability of cops and armed forces directly employed by the government. In 2007, during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, four Blackwater (now known as Academi) security guards opened fire on Iraqi civilians, killing or wounding 31 people in Nisour Square, Baghdad. The guards were later pardoned by former President Trump. Private security firms who are already the biggest security contractors in Afghanistan, are now advertising additional job openings to replace the departing U.S. troops. More recently, CTU Security—a Miami-based security firm—is being implicated in the assassinartion of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.
Private security firms also have a history of serving the ruling class on the domestic front. In 2016, security guards working for the Dakota Access pipeline unleashed dogs on water protectors in North Dakota. TigerSwan, a private mercenary firm, also actively collaborated with the state to surveil, infiltrate and build criminal cases against water protectors in North Dakota.
During the November elections, the city of Beverly Hills hired armed private security guards for extra security in wealthy residential and business locations. The city of Minneapolis also spent $152,400 on private security to protect three city council members who had promised to defund the police department but have since backed away from that position.
The Difference Between Mercenaries and Private Security Contractors
The difference is murky. Mercenaries generally operate in foreign countries except in matters of “homeland defense.” Freelance mercenaries are generally contracted by governments, anti-government groups, and anyone else who can afford them. Private military security companies, however, are legal companies that provide private soldiers to perform a specific operation.
Dr. Sean McFate sums up the confusion about the differences between private military contractors, private security companies, private military companies, private security/military companies, private military firms, military service providers, operational contractors, and contingency contractors:
“Since the emergence of this new warrior class in the 1990s, volumes of academic ink have been spilt on differentiating them from mercenaries.
However, such labels are little more than euphemism. Expert definitions fail to endure because they defy the obvious: If you have the skill sets to be a ‘private military contractor,’ then you can work as a ‘mercenary,’ too. There is no shining line between these categories, and it all depends on the individual warrior’s will and market circumstances. Academic typologies overcomplicate an already complex problem, helping no one.”
Laws and legality in bourgeois society function to maintain the racist-capitalist status quo.The George Floyd uprising took place against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and gave voice to the working class anger about growing global inequality as well as the racial terror perpetuated by cops. As the working class and oppressed are struggling to survive, corporations are reporting record profits. While the earth warms up, the ruling class is accelerating the destruction of the planet by laying down oil pipelines for profit. While workers make slave wages in factories, billionaire bosses are busy busting unions and are locked in a dick-measuring contest of who gets to colonize space first.
The state, whether through its own armed forces or its agents, wants to maintain a monopoly on violence. Behind every seeming concession made by the ruling class in the name of “law enforcement reform” or repeal of a slave catcher law is a systematic mechanism to maintain the violent racist status-quo that exploits our bodies for profit. Private cops are but one of these mechanisms. The working class and the oppressed should be wary of these tactics and co-options. We must democratically organize in our work spaces and communities to fight against all oppression, both here and globally. A crucial part of that would be to kick all cops, private or not, out of our communities and unions.
[Acknowledgment: The author would like to acknowledge attorneys, Jordan Kushner, Joseph G. Vaccaro and Tim Phillips for their insights regarding citizens’ arrest laws.]