In the interest of public safety, this week U.S. Rep Keith Ellison, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and other community leaders asked protesters to end their two-week, 24/7 occupation outside the Fourth Precinct police station.
They’re right; local Black Lives Matter organizers and supporters should voluntarily and peacefully disband their encampment. Though it was set up for good reasons, the camp now blocks a major North Side thoroughfare, creating safety, access and mobility concerns in the very community for which protesters are seeking justice.
The occupation and other demonstrations have come in response to the Nov. 15 death of Jamar Clark, a young black man who was shot and killed by police near the precinct station. Hodges pointed out Monday that most of the protesters’ demands have been met: Independent state and federal investigations are underway, the names and records of the officers involved were released, and grief counseling was provided.
Still, demonstration organizers say they’ll maintain their encampment until video of the Clark shooting is released to the public. Also on their demands list is that a special prosecutor be appointed and that the officers involved be prosecuted directly without indictment by a grand jury. The group also demonstrated downtown on Tuesday to demand that the four men who shot and injured demonstrators last week be charged with attempted murder.
BLM and others have every right to protest in that manner. Their movement has been and continues to be successful in raising awareness and provoking action to prevent excessive use of force against communities of color. But they can continue to seek change without continuing the Fourth Precinct station occupation. That part of their strategy should end because of the unsafe, negative impact it has on an already-challenged community.
Hodges confirmed her long-standing support for combating racial disparities in the city. But she and Ellison stood together with longtime African-American community leaders in calling the two-week occupation unlawful and “unsafe for everyone’’ — neighborhood residents, police and protesters alike.
No one questions protesters’ rights to assemble and speak their minds. In fact, several officials identified open spaces near the precinct station where demonstrators could continue their vigil more safely.
Ellison, like the Star Tribune Editorial Board and many others, supports the calls for justice. But he says his constituents who can’t get around in their own neighborhood also have valid concerns. “… [T]he unintended effect is that North Siders can’t use their main thoroughfare, Plymouth Avenue,” he said “The unintended effect is domestic terrorists are coming to the protest to start trouble.”
Demonstrators should not ignore community concerns. They should break camp and move on with other strategies.