Rather than fists, thousands of hands lifted flowers at Fargo’s Island Park on Friday to wish Breonna Taylor happy birthday and demand justice for her and George Floyd.
Taylor was fatally shot in March by Louisville police officers who have not been arrested or charged. Floyd’s death last week while in custody of four Minneapolis police officers, who have all been arrested and charged, sparked international protests and affected every state — including North Dakota, where Fargo was not immune to rioting seen across the country.
But organizers of the Island Park sit-in vowed the demonstration would remain peaceful and not repeat the violence of last weekend. In return, organizers asked Fargo police to forgo riot gear and shared with the sprawling crowd a list of demands of local elected leaders and police departments.
“We’ve had the knee of systemic oppression on our neck for too long,” said organizer Joseph Lewis.
Despite pledging to be a peaceful gathering, the Minnesota and North Dakota National Guards remained on standby. Gov. Tim Walz ordered troops to Moorhead after what he said were credible threats that could affect that city, though Walz and Mayor Johnathan Judd didn’t elaborate on those safety concerns.
“It is a precautionary measure just in case those outside influences … show up with the ill intent to break what is going to be a good, positive celebration in this community,” Judd said.
Whereas Judd said there wouldn’t be “a Guard presence in Moorhead during the celebration,” Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said the Guard would be protecting city buildings.
Tanks surrounded City Hall, where Friday’s protest was initially planned, but organizers ultimately agreed to stay in Island Park and not march throughout Fargo-Moorhead.
Some downtown Fargo businesses boarded up windows out of fear of what happened during last Saturday’s protest when thousands peacefully marched through the city, but then, as night fell, the protest turned violent.
Police used tear gas and less-than-lethal munition on protesters, and so far they’ve arrested 17 people for rioting.
The city announced it would be closing the mall and City Hall “due to uncertainty surrounding events in downtown on Friday,” and encouraged business owners to remove items around their property that could be used to cause harm or damage. But there was no sign of unrest in Island Park on Friday afternoon, and those in attendance hoped it would remain peaceful into the night.