The overpowering scent of vehicle air fresheners and the occasional sound of fence-rattling and fireworks filled the air Thursday as about 1,000 people protested outside the Brooklyn Center police headquarters.
The fifth night of protests outside the station ended much more quietly and peacefully than the previous four. At 11:30 p.m., only a few people still lingered. No dispersal order had been issued, unlike previous nights, and there was no sign that law enforcement planned to remove the remaining protesters.
Early on, the demonstration was noisy but peaceful, but tensions grew some after about 8:15 p.m., when Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot tweeted that a curfew had been declared. The declaration came as a surprise on a night when the only other metro-area curfew announced previously had been for Champlin. That's where former officer Kimberly Potter, charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, lives with her family.
The crowd responded negatively to the curfew announcement, with some denouncing it in a profanity-laced chant. Some rattled the double chain-link fences around the police headquarters, prompting a warning from law enforcement to "get off the fence!"
Operation Safety Net, a state law enforcement coalition, tweeted that at one point protesters were trying to break down the fence and throwing a few water bottles, rocks and cans. Still, the level of tension was much lower than previous nights, at least before the curfew took effect.
Contrasting with previous nights, law enforcement officers stayed well back from the fence. At least a dozen rifle-bearing National Guard members watched the protest from the station's roof, while others walked the ground inside the fences, well away from the fences pocked with air fresheners and umbrellas.
The more subdued law enforcement response followed expressions of difference Wednesday and Thursday between Brooklyn Center leaders and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, which is leading the defense of the police building, over the use of tear gas and other aggressive crowd dispersal methods.
The majority of Thursday's protesters were peaceful. Through the night, many of them hung vehicle air fresheners on the fence, a reference to Wright's mother's statement that her son had one dangling from his car's rearview mirror when he was stopped. The scents of new car, blackberry, cherry and green apple mingled with that of barbecued meat across the protest area.
Among those bringing an air freshener was Patience Morris, 18, of Brooklyn Center. "I come here every day at 6 p.m. with my sister," she said. Her sister, Diamond Sheriff, 31, also of Brooklyn Center, said their cousin Alfred Toe was killed by an off-duty police officer in Trenton, N.J., in 2016. (A prosecutor later ruled the officer's use of deadly force justified.)
Many of those gathered prayed, and others quietly held candles to honor those killed in confrontations with police. Cradling a candle, 18-year-old Liyah Brown of Brooklyn Center said she had come to the protest for the first time because "I want to be part of history."
Before dusk, the protest felt a bit like a festival as the Twin Cities Relief Initiative provided food to the crowd. The nonprofit, formed after the killing of George Floyd, has been working throughout the metro to provide food at gatherings and vigils, using donations from Target, Cub, Trader Joe's and community groups.
"We're out here to feed the movement, to feed the protesters to keep them fighting, because you really can't do anything if you're wondering where your next meal comes from," said initiative president Rachel Nelson. "With a full belly, it changes the whole conversation.
"If you've been fed, it turns into love, it turns into healing instead of hostility," she said. "We'll be out here on Saturday with two semis full of essentials and groceries for the entire Brooklyn Center area."
Walking in the crowd was Brooklyn Center City manager Reggie Edwards, wearing a baseball hat, a mask and a tie. "It's surreal. It's powerful," he said of the scene, adding that he's come to several of the gatherings to talk to residents and protesters.