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St. Paul police union criticizes AFSCME for support of Jamar Clark protesters

Union members join a protest over the police killing of Jamar Clark. Kyndell Harkness/Star Tribune

St. Paul police union officials this week criticized the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3800 for its support of protesters condemning the shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police, calling it “so biased and ignorant - it is useless to even debate.”

In a news release, St. Paul Police Federation president David Titus said he was “highly disappointed” with a Nov. 15 resolution of support put out by Local 3800, as well as the presence of the union’s members at protests outside the Fourth Precinct police station in north Minneapolis.

The labor union, which represents University of Minnesota clerical workers, called the shooting an outgrowth of "deep-seated, systemic racism that persists in our country where young people of color are profiled, criminalized, brutalized by police all across America." Local 3800 members also held a rally in solidarity with Black Lives Matter last weekend near where Clark was shot.

Clark was shot in the early morning of Nov. 16 after a physical confrontation with police officers responding to a disturbance call at his sister's North Side apartment building. His death prompted days of public protests demanding an end to police brutality and the firing of the officers involved.

Last week, state and federal authorities opened separate investigations into the incident.

The police union response read, in part:

“If you truly are ‘in solidarity with workers worldwide’ as your website displays - why were you not protesting the unsafe working conditions that rank and file officers (and possibly some AFSCME employees) endured this last week at the 4th Precinct? Bricks, rocks, mace and Molotov Cocktails were used against brother and sister union members. Where's the outrage? Where's the solidarity you speak of?”

Local 3800 leaders noted the union has a “longstanding belief in the need for solidarity between working people and an injury to one worker is an injury to all workers,” and joined protesters in demanding the release of any bystander and surveillance video of the incident. But Federation officials encouraged to “remember that there are men and women who gave an oath and work under very dangerous conditions every day protecting your rights to do so.”

Titus further urged the labor union to "replace" its statement "with language that is more reflective of your practices."

The Minneapolis police union, which has defended the officers, has yet to release a statement of its own, but reposted the St. Paul release on its Facebook page.

Police ask for public's help in solving double slaying in Mpls.

Third Precinct inspector Michael Sullivan speaks to community members. Libor Jany/STAR TRIBUNE

A day after a shooting in the Seward neighborhood that left two young Oromo-American men dead and a third seriously wounded, police officials said they needed the East African community's help in solving the case.

At an emotional community meeting Monday night, officials faced some tough questions about last weekend's double slaying, in which Abdulahi Awuni, 19, and Rastem Abubakar, 24, both of Minneapolis, were shot while sitting in a car parked outside the Cedar 94 apartment building. No arrests have been made in the case.

Lt. Rick Zimmerman said the Somali and Oromo communities needed to step up to help police find the mystery gunmen.

"The most important way that we solve murders is by the community coming together and helping us do our jobs," said Zimmerman, head of the MPD’s homicide unit. "No one deserves to do that to them; they were born into this world and only God can call them back.

"No can just shoot somebody and think they can get away with it," he said.

Medical examiners found that Abubakar died of a gunshot wound to the head, while Awuni was shot multiple times. The third victim, whose name and age haven't been released, was taken to an area hospital with noncritical injuries, police said.

"It was a very brazen shooting,” Third Precinct inspector Michael Sullivan told the several hundred people packed into the apartment building’s meeting room. “The victims were in the vehicle and it was parked and they were approached by some suspects, we believe, and there was some conversation and they were shot."

Sullivan said that homicide detectives were still trying to determine what led to the shooting and encouraged any witnesses to speak to police. Listening from the back of the room were Christopher Granger, the recently-appointed commander of the Violent Crimes Investigations Division, and several of the of the department's Somali-American officers.

Some in the crowd on Monday implored witnesses from the local immigrant community, where distrust of law enforcement has always run deep, to come forward and cooperate with the investigation.

"This is not a community of East African, Somali or Oromo, this is a community of all of us," said Amano Dube, executive director of the Brian Coyle Center, a community center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood that all three victims frequented. "What has been troubling over the last several years is seeing our young men and women being murdered in a peaceful nation." 

"What's wrong with us?" he asked. "We don't speak up."

Abdi Warsame, Minneapolis' first Somali-American Council member, told the crowd: "We are an American people: it doesn't matter if you're Somali, Oromo or Eritrean."

Police officials, whose work to forge close ties with the East African community has earned national recognition, said that gaining the Somali immigrants’ trust has proved challenging because a legacy of police corruption in their war-torn homeland has harmed their perception of law enforcement.

The killings on Sunday evening were Minneapolis’ 42nd and 43rd homicides of the year, putting the city on pace to have its deadliest year in nearly a decade. Not included in that tally is one killing that is being investigated as self-defense and another in which medical examiners were unable to establish whether a man shot himself or was killed by someone else. And on Monday, police arrested a man in connection with the suspected death of a 25-year-old single mother who had been missing since last week, according to police and community sources.

News of the men’s deaths brought an outpouring of grief from their friends and family on social media.

“RIP Rastem your wisdom was heard and will always be remembered,” one user tweeted. Another, with the handle FavEthio, posted that her "heart goes out to Rastem's family."

Somali community activist Abdirizak Bihi said that Awuni was a well-known spoken word artist who performed regularly at local social events. Awuni, he said, was about to start a new job at a local theater company before he was killed.