Dark Days for Camelot

Minneapolis police said they raided a natural-foods charity in search of drugs. The people they routed say the cops' real fear was their politics.

In contrast to the protesters who last year demanded a halt to the rerouting of Highway 55, the Sister's Camelot ordeal has provoked a lot of public sympathy. "I know them as a bunch of hippies who haul produce around," says Lisa McDonald, who represents the city's Tenth Ward, where the duplex is located. "This is not in line with the experience I've had with this group. I've only bird-dogged them once in a while about where their buses were parked."

Sister's Camelot started in October of 1997 with the simple idea that communities would prosper if everyone enjoyed access to organic food. Borowiak had started a mobile kitchen in Seattle in the mid-Nineties, but the 32-year-old father of two soon chose to return to Minneapolis and put down permanent roots. For two years Borowiak, four other paid staffers, and a bevy of volunteers have collected food that goes unsold from local organic food wholesalers. Three times a week they load up their two buses--one of which includes a Health Department-certified kitchen--and distribute lunch and produce in low-income neighborhoods.

According to Borowiak, volunteers canvassing nightly last year netted about $90,000 for Sister's Camelot, which is recognized as a nonprofit by the IRS. "We are very public people, but we don't get in the press," he says. "We've been handing out food in a hippie bus for three years, so of course people know us." Since the raid, Sister's Camelot has struggled to conduct business as usual.

"Hippies who haul produce": Sister's Camelot's Jeff Borowiak
Craig Lassig
"Hippies who haul produce": Sister's Camelot's Jeff Borowiak

The bottom line, in Borowiak's opinion, is that the MPD was under pressure to justify the enormous expense of overpreparing for what turned out to be relatively small protests. "The police have never bothered us before," he explains. "One of their tactics is to hit the [protest] organizing houses to justify their expenses. They have an ulterior motive of harassing, intimidating, and criminalizing activists because it goes on your record and then you are labeled."

"I know I'm in the right," he concludes. "I'm not an advocate of violence or smashing windows. I'm an advocate for free thinking."


News intern Tricia Cornell contributed research for this story.

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