There’s no room for protest anymore at the Fourth Precinct police station in Minneapolis. Concrete barricades topped with fences line the sidewalk, blocking the yard. Cars once again roll down Plymouth Avenue N.
But for 18 days, it was the epicenter of demonstrations that sprouted from the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark. With people coming and going at all hours of the day and night, it grew into a bustling tent city with hot food, portable toilets and something call the “Justice Hut.” Some people slept in shifts, going home only to shower and change clothes.
They were there to demand answers in Clark’s death. He was shot by a white officer Nov. 15. Police have said he was interfering as a paramedic tended to his girlfriend, and when a scuffle ensued, Clark reached for an officer’s gun. Witnesses to the altercation have said Clark was handcuffed when he was shot. He died the next day after being taken off life support. An autopsy showed he had been shot in the head.
They were also there to protest police brutality, as others, led by Black Lives Matter, have done nationwide.
The encampment produced tense standoffs with police officers in riot gear who used pepper spray and pointed guns at protesters. A small contingent of protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails, and slashed car tires of the police department’s second-in-command. Five protesters were wounded in an apparently racially motivated shooting.
Still, people came. Some were national names — the president of the NAACP, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. But many were like Donald Valiant. He didn’t know Clark, but his death reminded Valiant of another friend who died after an altercation with police.
So, on most evenings, Valiant visited the improvised memorial near where Clark was shot to tidy things up. He relit candles snuffed out by rain or wind, and when those burned down, replaced them with fresh ones.
He was just one of the faces of the protest, and those swept up on its edges. Others share their stories:
Jayme Ali, the pastor
Longtime North Sider saw an urgent need for change
Jayme Ali wished more people would offer solutions instead of criticizing the movement.
She was out at the Fourth Precinct protest almost daily. At one point, she said, she stayed up for 30 hours straight.
But it was frustrating, she said. The last straw came when a coalition of North Side politicians, ministers and power brokers made a public plea for protesters to go home.
“It was like being punched in the stomach for some,” said Ali, pastor of the God of All Truth Church.
She said that she was disheartened to hear that some black leaders had “turned their backs” on the protests just as they were reaching a critical juncture. The protest brought attention to police brutality in the community, she said, and the demonstrators needed to figure out what to do next.
Ali said that community members had little choice but to protest bad treatment by police. It’s time for change, she said.
Ali said protesters should boycott any faith and community leaders who aligned themselves with city officials.
She’s a longtime North Side resident — she still remembers when the site now occupied by the police station was the Way, a popular community center. The protest brought “outsiders” with their own agendas to the neighborhood, she said, and she expects them to vanish now that the spotlight is gone.
“We all know that Black Lives was out here for Black Lives,” she said. “I don’t sugarcoat nothing.”
Don Turner, security team
Street survival skills help support a new cause
Don Turner stayed at the camp for as long as almost any of the other protesters.
Partly, he was there out of moral conviction. Partly, he stayed out of necessity.
Turner, who is homeless, said that before arriving at the encampment two weekends ago, he had been robbed and attacked on the streets more times than he could remember, as he moved from shelter to shelter.
Being around the hundreds of other protesters at the Fourth Precinct gave him some peace of mind, he said, not to mention a hot meal every night and a roof over his head, however temporary.
Still, he slept most nights with a small hatchet within arm’s reach for protection. Even within the camp he was wary of tension erupting.
Turner, a member of the all-volunteer “security team” responsible for patrolling the encampment’s perimeter, said that his old survival skills have come in handy more than once.
“I really have no other purpose than to support people and show them how to be warm,” he said. At the encampment, he stoked a fire fueled by wood and empty pizza boxes.
For days, Turner said, he and the other protesters lived under the constant threat of being forcefully evicted by police.
When that time came, he gathered his belongings, including a portable propane tank he used for cooking and heating the olive-colored tent he “inherited” sometime after the protest began. He left to sleep on a friend’s couch.
Sandy Alt, the neighbor
Family on the front lines, sleepless nights next door
Sandy Alt wanted the bright lights to go away.
She was one of the dozens of neighbors who were unwillingly swept up in the protests. The spotlight police set up to illuminate the Fourth Precinct station during the protest shone into a second-story bedroom and kept her great-great-nephew, 4 months old, awake.
There were other inconveniences. The alley behind her house on Morgan Avenue N. was sealed off, under police orders, by a concrete barricade. The only way in and out was down another, narrower alley that opened onto 12th Avenue N. Parking became a problem.
Several times a night, she was awakened by a loud commotion coming from the encampment across the street. She barely got any sleep and missed a week of work, she said.
The acrid smell of smoke from a half a dozen fires at the demonstration lingered in the air.
Her qualm, she insisted, was with the protest methods, not the cause itself.
Her nephew, Draper Larkins had chanted and marched for Clark and was among the five men shot by a gunman on Nov. 23. Alt’s son also took part in the protest, helping direct traffic and walking people back to their cars as the nights wore on.
“He thought he was doing his job as a citizen,” she said, “to protect women and children if anything goes down.”
But it was time for the protest to end, she said. She welcomes a return to normalcy.
“Justice is going to get served,” Alt said.
Nimo Omar, the student actvist
Fighting for justice with schoolwork on the side
Nimo Omar juggled school with protest activities for more than two weeks.
A student at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, she had to balance a full course load with her new duties as part of the encampment’s security team, keeping troublemakers out.
Some nights, social activism had to wait, because she had homework that couldn’t. While others chanted or marched, she would duck into a classmate’s car to charge her phone and laptop, or work on an essay for her writing class.
But the protests have also brought some respite. She joined fellow protesters dining on a hot buffet stocked with donated pies and macaroni and cheese during the so-called “Blacksgiving” celebration. Religious leaders from various faiths led the crowd in prayer.
Seeing the community come together was the best part of being out there, she said.
“On the first day, when we first occupied, there was nothing,” she said. “I remember sitting outside and not having coats, boots or gloves.”
In the protest’s final days, she joined others at a table overlooking the Minneapolis City Hall rotunda, savoring one of the few moments of calm. She watched as some of her fellow Black Lives Matter activists worked on posters for that night’s rally at Government Plaza. Omar said she will stay active with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. Like many others, she said, she intends to continue demonstrating “until we get answers.”