Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on Friday praised his officers for showing “admirable restraint” while being pelted with bottles and umbrellas during a protest after President Donald Trump’s rally, even as some questioned the use of chemical agents on protesters throughout the night.
“MPD officers used appropriate levels of force including chemical irritant while responding to, at times, violent and aggressive individuals causing harm to others in attendance,” he said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “In addition, officers practiced admirable restraint and utilized de-escalation skills to defuse tensions by exiting crowds.”
He said that officers were the targets of rocks and bottles — some possibly containing urine — thrown by protesters, and that several police horses were also hit by sticks. A department spokesman confirmed Friday that police only arrested one person, on suspicion of damage to property, and cited another for disorderly conduct.
Trump’s event drew thousands of the president’s supporters and protesters alike downtown Thursday. Early in the night, the groups were split into two areas to prevent clashes, a chain-link fence cordoning off several blocks. As the evening progressed, the protests escalated from peaceful chants and sign-waving to a tense impasse with police on the rainy downtown streets.
A group of protesters burned a pile of red pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” hats before police extinguished the fire and began moving the crowds. Officers on foot, bicycles and horses moved in and were soon joined by officers in riot gear. Protesters had standoffs with police in multiple areas, chanting and shouting at the officers, who used their bicycles to temporarily create a barrier but otherwise did not react.
On a few occasions, demonstrators blocked cars of attendees trying to leave, taunting them and throwing objects at their vehicles.
A man riding in a station wagon was seen flashing a gun at protesters as they pounded on his car, according to video posted by the online media collective Unicorn Riot.
Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said officers are aware of the video and are looking into it, but they haven’t received a report and they’re not officially investigating. A message left with a woman who claimed to be with the man who waved the gun was not returned.
As bottles, umbrellas and traffic cones flew toward them on 6th Street, officers used their bikes to push the crowd back while officers deployed pepper spray at protesters, some of whom wore bandannas over their faces. Meanwhile, others in the crowd pleaded for restraint as the focus of the protests shifted from Trump to police on the scene.
On several occasions, a number of officers peeled off to try to outflank a particular group of protesters.
In an e-mail to Arradondo and other senior police staff on Friday, Mayor Jacob Frey commended officers for their professionalism.
“Those who were tasked with keeping our residents and visitors safe last night did so with excellence,” Frey wrote. “The circumstances were challenging, and they rose to the occasion.”
State Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, who attended Thursday’s rally, noticed that officers seemed less overtly hostile compared with other high-profile demonstrations like the Fourth Precinct occupation, which took place in 2015 after the police shooting death of Jamar Clark.
“Having one arrest and one citation when you have tens of thousands of people exercising their First Amendment right would be called a successful conclusion,” she said of the police response, which spurred both criticism and praise on social media. “I think our police chief is doing his level best to kind of change the culture to one that puts de-escalation of tense situations as sort of the first line.”
But she was also among those who criticized officers’ sometimes indiscriminate use of chemical sprays on the rowdy crowds, calling it an “unnecessary escalation.” On the night of the protest, Gomez posted on social media that Frey pledged to her that police would stop using chemical irritants on the crowd. That was refuted by both police and a Frey spokesperson, who said Frey “did not issue such a directive and has full confidence in Chief Arradondo to address public safety needs.”
Arradondo said in his statement that officers’ use of chemical sprays would be reviewed to ensure department policy was followed.
Jaylani Hussein, CAIR-MN executive director, said the night served as an example of police working with communities exercising their right to free speech.
He said that his organization, which joined protests earlier in the day, had more than 50 volunteer marshals in orange and red reflective vests working in concert with police outside Target Center.
“Overall, the police in the beginning did their jobs — what took place later on at least from what I’m hearing was unfortunate,” he said.
But, he said he was also troubled by the sight of police union President Lt. Bob Kroll making an appearance during Trump’s speech, flanked by several retired city officers wearing red “Cops for Trump” shirts.
Police chief of staff Art Knight argued that Kroll was appearing only on the union’s behalf and was not necessarily speaking for all rank-and-file officers.
“We don’t take a political stance and Lt. Kroll … his words are not the opinion of the police administration,” Knight said. “[Not] every cop on the department [agrees] with what he has to say.”