Calling a two-week protest outside a north Minneapolis police station unlawful and “unsafe for everyone,” Mayor Betsy Hodges on Monday implored protesters to end their occupation at the Fourth Precinct.
Flanked by city officials and several longtime North Side community leaders, the mayor reiterated her support for erasing racial disparities in the city. But she said the demonstrations sparked by the shooting death of Jamar Clark by a police officer have become a hazard for neighborhood residents, police and protesters that should be stopped. Hodges described the scene as one with protesters’ warming fires polluting the air, makeshift barricades blocking ambulances and snowplows, and outside agitators committing violence with guns.
“There have been near-daily threats to burn the precinct, kill our officers and to hurt people, causing harm and fear that must end,” she said.
But with snow falling and more on the way, protesters said they did not intend to leave.
Leaders of Black Lives Matter, the Minneapolis NAACP and other supporters spoke out at their own afternoon news conference, rejecting the mayor’s call to leave and reiterating their own demands. Some called for hiring more minority officers, assigning a special prosecutor to investigate the apparent racially motivated shooting of five protesters last week and eliminating low-level ordinances that disproportionately affect black residents.
“We will not let politics or politicians drive a wedge between us,” said Kandace Montgomery of Black Lives Matter. “We will not allow white supremacists to terrorize us.”
She also called for a “direct prosecution” in the Clark shooting, saying “grand juries are places where a case like this goes to die.”
Protesters have continued to call for authorities to release video of Clark’s Nov. 15 shooting, which took place near the Fourth Precinct. At the mayor’s news conference, a handful of speakers noted that officials have complied with protesters’ other demands, including the release of the names of the officers involved in the shooting and the launch of a federal investigation.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison said he initially supported the protests, and backs demonstrators’ calls for justice for Clark. More recently, however, he’s become concerned about the broader impact on the neighborhood. He said his office has received calls from people worried about older residents who live nearby in public housing and people who depend on city buses that can’t get through because protesters have blocked Plymouth Avenue N.
“I believe the people protesting, their purpose and their intent is to raise the issue of police brutality, police accountability,” he said. “But the unintended effect is that North Siders can’t use their main thoroughfare, Plymouth Avenue. The unintended effect is domestic terrorists are coming to the protest to start trouble.”
Others who urged protesters to end their occupation at the station included the two City Council members who represent north Minneapolis, the heads of the Minneapolis Urban League and Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, and Trahern Pollard, founder of a group called Push for Peace.
Pollard said he has visited the site and is disappointed in how the protest has evolved. “You can’t tell me that it’s justice for Jamar by spray-painting the police station,” he said. “You can’t tell me that barricading Plymouth Avenue and denying access for our elders to get on the bus or get a little fresh air is justice for Jamar.”
On Plymouth Avenue N., however, protesters said those views didn’t match up with their own.
Pastor Jamie Ali, founder of God of All Truth Church, said protesters plan to boycott black leaders who aligned themselves with Minneapolis officials in asking for an end to the protest. Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds questioned the work of local leaders who have touted their participation in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Several speakers characterized the mayor’s announcement as an attempt to divide the protesters.
“It really is frustrating to have the mayor of Minneapolis stand with so-called black leadership,” Levy-Pounds said.
She also called on the Justice Department to enter into a consent decree, as has been done with police departments in nine other cities, including New Orleans, Detroit, Seattle and Albuquerque, N.M. Under such an agreement, an independent monitor would be installed to oversee departmentwide reforms.
Hodges declined to say if she intended to send police in to forcefully remove protesters who she said are “not exercising their First Amendment rights lawfully.”
When asked why the city hadn’t intervened in unlawful activities, the mayor said the situation requires a delicate balancing act.
“We had to weigh the current situation, the risk factors that we know are there, against the unknown and what might happen,” she said. “We have been working day and night and I have been working day and night to find a peaceful way to end the occupation while still allowing for people to protest.”
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.