Ongoing clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement at Brooklyn Center police headquarters are sparking sharp criticism of the military-style presence and tactics used to control demonstrations in the wake of Sunday's police killing of Daunte Wright.
A small but growing coalition of activists and Democratic elected leaders have called on Gov. Tim Walz and the law enforcement groups involved with Operation Safety Net to stand down or stop using so-called flash-bang devices and chemical irritants to control protesters who have converged at the police station every night since Sunday.
A group of 35 community groups, unions and social justice organizations called for an immediate end to the police and military presence, saying authorities are using unnecessarily aggressive and dangerous tactics.
"We are horrified by the state's preemptive force against its people, and the compounding trauma caused by the state against Black, brown and Indigenous communities," the group said in a statement. "Punishing people for grieving police violence with militarized force is not leadership — it is violence."
Walz, who is commander in chief of the Minnesota National Guard, received several questions about the use of force in Brooklyn Center during a Thursday news conference meant to highlight the state's COVID-19 vaccine program.
The DFL governor said he is concerned about those tactics and the potential harm to neighbors, but that authorities are trying to head off a potentially very dangerous situation. Walz says he worries that protesters might have burned down the police station and maybe other buildings without forceful intervention.
"I've learned from the past; that building would have been burned down, and my fear is the surrounding apartments would have been burned, too," he said. "I trust our safety officials to be very judicious and think about this."
Walz and Minneapolis leaders endured sharp criticism from residents and some business leaders last May for being sluggish to respond to violent demonstrations after George Floyd died in police custody.
The riots caused serious damage to more than 1,000 buildings across the Twin Cities, including the total loss of a Minneapolis police station.
State and local leaders formed Operation Safety Net, a coalition including the National Guard and state and local law enforcement, to ensure a swift and coordinated response to expected unrest after the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing Floyd. The case is expected to go to the jury on Monday, and a verdict could come anytime afterward.
The protests and the response from authorities opened a rift between Brooklyn Center's mayor and city officials and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, which is leading the operation outside the police station.
After Wright's killing on Sunday, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott asked for assistance from the Sheriff's Office and other local law enforcement agencies.
Operation Safety Net shifted hundreds of officers and equipment to Brooklyn Center. At night, the neighborhood near the police station is filled with smoke from chemical irritants, the sounds of flash-bang grenades and the presence of military-type vehicles parked on grassy areas.
A barrier has been constructed around the Police Department building, and nearby residents have complained about gas seeping into their homes. More than 60 people have been arrested over the past few days.
Facing growing community criticism, the Brooklyn Center City Council on Monday passed a resolution prohibiting its officers from using tear gas or other chemicals and from shooting rubber-coated bullets to disperse crowds. Officers will not be able to cover their badge numbers or prohibit citizens from videotaping them while on duty. They also will be prohibited from forming police lines to arrest large numbers of people, performing chokeholds or using harsher methods.
But it was not clear that Brooklyn Center officers were honoring those orders, and other law enforcement agencies were not bound by those restrictions.
Elliott grew concerned about the forceful tactics and said that "gassing is not a humane way of policing."
At a news conference, the mayor said he did not agree with how law enforcement has dealt with protesters by using pepper spray, tear gas and marking paint.
Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson released a letter to the mayor that questioned the use of his deputies at protests after the criticism.
In the letter, Hutchinson asked Elliott if he still wanted the outside assistance. Elliott did not respond to a request for comment.
On Thursday night, Brooklyn Center City Council members called an emergency meeting and promptly went into a closed session to talk about security.
The meeting was called so suddenly that two members joined in as proceedings were underway, one of them complaining that she learned about the meeting by accident. "I wasn't called," said Council Member Kris Lawrence-Anderson.
Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering, president of the Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association, interrupted the council during the virtual meeting to speak, saying she had a brief speech prepared "if you don't mind."
"I do mind," Elliott said, cutting her off. He then asked the city clerk to mute people on the Zoom meeting so the council could conduct business.
Revering was eventually allowed to speak, urging the council to offer full-throated support for law enforcement. "We are only able to do our part with the unequivocal support of the leaders of this city," she said.
After the meeting, council members emerged to say they will schedule a public listening session about the security issues in coming days.
As the council met, protesters gathered for a fifth night outside police headquarters. Late Thursday, a couple hundred people who remained from a crowd that numbered about 1,000 earlier were still outside the station. A 10 p.m. curfew had long passed, but no dispersal had occurred.
The protest was largely peaceful. Law enforcement took a new approach, standing well back from the protest behind a double chain-link fence.