Few American politicians have experienced the racial tensions and trauma currently roiling their country more acutely than Minneapolis’ Jewish mayor, Jacob Frey.
The touch paper for the massive Black Lives Matter protests was lit in the midwestern city by the brutal killing of George Floyd by a policeman late last month.
Mr Frey’s handling of the rioting and disturbances which swiftly swept Minneapolis was publicly attacked by Donald Trump.
But last weekend the 38-year-old Democrat found himself under fire from protesters demanding he abolishes the police department. Images of the mayor being heckled and forced to leave a rally to chants of “Go home, Jacob, go home” and “Shame! Shame!” soon went viral on social media.
Mr Frey’s plight exemplifies the sharp divisions and polarisation in America. On the one hand, stands a president who has repeatedly played the race card and attempted to tap “white nationalist” support. On the other stand those demanding increasingly radical steps to address endemic racism in America’s police and criminal justice system.
Ironically, Mr Frey — a former civil rights lawyer — came to office two years ago on a pledge to address the very issues which are now shaking both Minneapolis and cities across the US. Among his plans were reforms to the use of force by police, racial awareness training and greater accountability.
The mayor’s efforts have been resisted by elements of the police union which strongly support Mr Trump.
Few could fault the sensitivity with which he responded to Mr Floyd’s killing. Having called for the arrest of the office who suffocated him, the mayor tweeted: “If most people, particularly people of colour, had done what a police officer did … they’d already be behind bars.”
Mr Trump, however, is not a man given to such sensitivities. When unrest erupted in Minneapolis in the wake of the killing, the president took to twitter to attack Mr Frey, labelling him a “very weak Radical Left Mayor” and telling him to “get his act together”.
“Weakness,” Mr Frey calmly responded, “is pointing your finger at somebody else at a time of crisis.”
On Saturday, however, Mr Frey felt the wrath of demonstrators who marched to his house and demanded a “yes or no” answer to whether he would pledge to abolish the police department. The mayor refused to deliver the commitment and his attempt to explain his position went unheard as he was forced to leave the scene amid booing and chanting.
That meant the demonstrators did not hear of Mr Frey’s commitment to “deep structural reform of a racist system” — a commitment which the previous day had seen him successfully push through a series of sweeping measures.
Mr Frey’s position may now be moot: on Sunday, the city council voted to abolish the police department by a majority which would override any mayoral veto.
Mr Frey, however, seems more in-step with public opinion. A YouGov poll last week showed that while overwhelming majorities of Americans support reforms, less than one in five — including only 16 per cent of Democrats — want to see police funding cut, let alone departments abolished.