About 100 people gathered outside the Fourth Precinct police station in north Minneapolis on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family brought together in a time of turmoil.
They huddled around fires, prayed and gave thanks while sharing overflowing plates of donated food beneath the falling snow. It marked the 12th day of protests outside the precinct headquarters since Jamar Clark died after being shot by police Nov. 15.
The gathering, which protesters called “BlacksGiving,” came a day after Clark’s family laid him to rest. At the Wednesday funeral, more than 300 people paid their respects and said goodbye to the man whose death has drawn attention from around the nation.
Clark was removed from life support Nov. 16, less than 24 hours after he was shot in a struggle with officers. Witnesses have said Clark, who was unarmed, was handcuffed when he was shot. Police deny that claim, saying Clark was interfering with paramedics tending to his girlfriend, the victim of an assault. A police union leader has said Clark was reaching for an officer’s gun.
On Thursday, protesters bowed their heads and prayed for Clark and his family.
“It’s really powerful to see community solidarity on Thanksgiving,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, Minneapolis NAACP president. “We are going to persevere until we see change.”
Police watched from behind barricades as protesters dug into their mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and pumpkin pie.
Zion Baptist Church Pastor Brian C. Herron led the protesters in a prayer. Herron said the church must be present when the community is trying to heal after a tragedy.
“The church cannot be silent on the issue of justice,” he said.
Volunteers erected an insulated food tent outside the Fourth Precinct, and the NAACP and Zion Baptist Church donated meals for the gathering.
Rochelle Garcia, 39, came to the precinct with a group from Zion Baptist Church. She said she hopes to bring her children along with her next time.
“You have to do something about it even if it’s to come and pray,” she said.
Dozens of North Side residents donated heaters, tents and traditional Thanksgiving fare for the event. A steady stream of homemade pies were delivered to the food tent in the hours before the dinner.
Ten restaurant-style heat lamps lined the block in front of the precinct station on Plymouth Avenue N., and demonstrators also gathered around campfires that have been glowing all week. Tarps, collecting snow, were covering large stockpiles of firewood on either end of the street.
Kristine Hamer, 27, kept warm by the fire with her 7-year-old daughter, Alejandra. Hamer has spent eight days at the protests with her daughter. Each day after school, she said, they head over to the precinct.
Hamer said her daughter understands the situation.
“I don’t want someone hunting her down,” she said. “I want change for everyone.”
The Tatanka Truck — a food truck — parked outside the encampment offering smoked turkey, hominy soup and hot cedar-maple tea to protesters.
A couple of protesters began to boo when two police officers stepped outside to walk around the encampment, but they were quickly quieted by fellow demonstrators.
Wesley Martin and Clark’s cousin, Cameron, limped around the encampment on crutches. Both Martin and Cameron Clark were shot Monday in an apparently racially motivated attack near the precinct. Four men are in jail in connection with the attack.
Members of the community came up to Martin and Cameron Clark to thank them for their courage.
“It’s tough in the morning but then I get up and get walking, and it’s all good,” Martin said.
Several men have stepped in since Monday to provide security to protesters at the precinct, Levy-Pounds said.
At the Thanksgiving feast, Levy-Pounds said a prayer for the five protesters shot Monday. She encouraged protesters to thank Martin and Cameron Clark, as well as offer support to the mother of a man who is still in the hospital after he was shot in the stomach.
She reminded the crowd that Jamar Clark’s family could not celebrate the holiday with him.
“We care about Jamar and what happened to him,” she said. “We are going to continue standing strong and persevering.”
Community leaders, including U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, have asked protesters to end their encampment. But demonstrator Jeremy Little said that within the unrest, the community found a place to heal in front of the police station.
“Right outside our oppressor, we found peace,” he said.
A church service will be held in front of the station on Sunday, Levy-Pounds said.