Before Minneapolis’ Fourth Precinct became the site of a movement, several female protesters flooded the police station’s vestibule and refused to move, demanding justice for Jamar Clark.
Days later, the occupation would grow to include hundreds of people and thrust Black Lives Matter Minneapolis into the national spotlight for its protests over the death of Clark, an unarmed 24-year-old black man shot by police Nov. 15.
What many did not know was that several of the women who slept in the vestibule were immigrants of East African descent, activists said. On Saturday, the 14th straight day of protests, those women held a rally at the protest site to express unity between their East African immigrant communities and African-American protesters.
“We’re not a separate entity,” said organizer Ilhan Omar. “We’re black. Our kids are black. And this is our struggle.”
About 75 people turned up for Saturday’s event on Plymouth Avenue N., where donated crates of food remained from protesters’ recent Thanksgiving dinner, held one day after Clark’s funeral. He was shot by officers during a domestic abuse call; police have said he was trying to wrestle away an officer’s gun.
Supporters gathered in a large circle and heard speeches from about a dozen community members, who said they want to dismantle false narratives about African-Americans.
Wintana Melekin, of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said anti-black rhetoric is often used to divide East African immigrants from African-Americans. This can cause people to see themselves as Somali, for example, instead of black, she said.
“There is no way to separate the two,” she said. “We are one people.”
Activists echoed that in order to be successful in getting their demands met, all black residents — regardless of their background — need to join the cause.
Omar, who is running for state representative, used Friday’s shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, where a white gunman is thought to have killed three people, as an example of how police interactions with black suspects tend to have different results.
“He killed cops and he killed other people, and he walked away alive, unharmed,” she said. “I stand up because I know things need to change, and we can’t see change unless we see it in the State Capitol. Unless we have people who look like us and share our pain.”
Several events were planned Saturday night, including a “Midnight at the Precinct” celebration with food, music and movies. Protesters pledged to hold twice-daily meetings to update the crowd on future plans.