A sixth night of protests outside the twin-fenced Brooklyn Center police headquarters ended within a few chaotic minutes Friday night when law enforcement rushed a dwindling but increasingly volatile crowd and made arrests.
At its peak, the crowd protesting Sunday's fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by a former Brooklyn Center police officer swelled to about 1,000 people, one of the week's largest gatherings. And early on, the protest had the air of a block party.
But everything changed about 9 p.m., when arguments erupted within the crowd about protest tone and tactics after one speaker called for the fences to be rushed and taken down, with some attempting to do just that.
Law enforcement officers who had stood back behind the fences and simply watched most of the night swiftly issued dispersal orders, fired flash-bang grenades and moved in to arrest people after the attempt to breach the fences and when an increasing number of objects were thrown at them by a few protesters. National Guard troops provided perimeter support.
For most of the night, no curfew was in effect, but late Friday, an 11 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew was hastily declared.
In a news conference early Saturday, law enforcement leaders stressed that Friday's gathering was peaceful and legal until its last few minutes, and expressed disappointment that Thursday night's strategy of backing off and waiting out the protest did not work Friday.
John Harrington, commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, laid out a detailed timeline of Friday's events. For several hours, he said, the gathering was passionate, peaceful and orderly. But just before 9 p.m., an assault on the fences was undertaken and glass bottles, rocks and other objects were being thrown at officers, he said.
By 9:30 p.m. an attempt was made to cut parts of the fence, although he and others at the news conference did offered no details on how that breach was attempted and how extensive it was.
When law enforcement observed some people who were wearing helmets, hockey or gas masks and tactical gear moving on the front and back fences with baseball bats, shields, bleach and other items that they had been hiding behind nearby Dumpsters and buildings, they issued three dispersal orders and then quickly moved in to make arrests, Harrington said. He said most people fled at that point and officers focused on those who were hard by the fences.
"This is a night that should have been about Daunte Wright," Harrington said with visible emotion, adding that the chaos of the last few minutes hijacked an otherwise legal, nonviolent protest.
Harrington said that during the protest, many "community partners" sought to keep other protesters peaceful and from breaching the fence, but that in the end, they were overwhelmed by a few who opposed their mission.
Other law enforcement leaders — Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson, State Patrol Col. Matt Langer and a few more — reiterated Harrington's message of disappointment in a few protesters' attack on the fences.
Hutchinson said that the minority of protesters who rushed the fence also spray-painted "Death to America" on various surfaces.
"If we want reform in policing, let's do that," but most protesters who want change don't support such slogans, he said.
From mild to intense
Early on, the atmosphere was light, with fresh produce, barbecue s'mores and other food being distributed, messages such as "We demand change" written on chalk on the pavement, chanting, singing, prayers and a short march up and down N. Humboldt Avenue.
Then the mood darkened.
Accusing some of being too passive, Royce White, a former professional basketball player and co-founder of a group called 10K, called on the Black men in the crowd to storm the fence because Black men "are the ones getting killed by police."
"The fence represents tyranny. The fence is a smack in the face. The fence is spitting on Daunte Wright's face.… We have the numbers. We should continue to push."
He also said that protesters who were working to keep others peaceful and from breaching the fence were not helping the cause.
But many others shouted denunciations of White and his group and cried out that the pleas of the majority of Black protesters, especially women, should be heeded.
As the fences were rattled and White spoke, the first flash-bang grenade was fired at protesters, some of whom were throwing objects over the fence. There would be many more in the coming minutes, and several protesters who were struck by projectiles called out for medics.
The fences being rattled were heavily festooned with vehicle air fresheners, a reference to Wright's mother's assertion that her son had one dangling from his rearview mirror when he was stopped and fatally shot by former officer Kimberly Potter.
Earlier in the evening, Tiffany Burns, the sister of Jamar Clark, who was killed by Minneapolis police in 2015, and Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, were among the demonstrators present.
"We want a federal investigation into all these departments — the ones that have murdered our loved ones, to be prosecuted and charged, cases reopened," Garraway said when asked what justice means to her.
John Martin, a former volunteer at the Wall of Forgotten Natives in Minneapolis, said he had an encounter with former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, now on trial in the death of George Floyd, in 2007, and came to Brooklyn Center as soon as he heard about Wright's death.
"Bring it to the police department where the argument should be taken, a place where you should demand questions and answers for the reason why" someone died, he said. "Why did [Potter] even do it? She knows her belt."
Many families who live in the apartment complex at 6700 N. Humboldt Av., across from police headquarters, have temporarily moved out to escape the nightly protests. But residents Duke McClain and Johnny Tolliver said they're staying to defend the building.
"I support everything the crowd's doing to the police as long as they're hurting nothing over here, and they're keeping everything toward the police," McClain said. "I got four kids, so we're just trying to protect our building. People have been breaking in and trying to get on the roof [sometimes to take photos], so we're just being cautious. It's been crazy out here."
Tolliver called the multiday standoffs "lawlessness and chaos."
"It's traumatizing to watch it, traumatizing to be in," he said. "Innocent people are getting sprayed with tear gas. … Right now it seems like we're in a third-world country."
Tolliver said he's seen the same things play out several times as provocateurs throw something at officers and they respond with pepper spray or other measures against a largely peaceful crowd.
Thursday's protest represented a remarkable de-escalation by both sides that Tolliver praised, although his hopes that Friday would be similar did not come to fruition. As for his personal views about Wright's death, he said he'd like to see Potter, who shot the 20-year-old Black man, face more severe charges than second-degree manslaughter — a common theme among protesters every night this week.
Four Star Tribune journalists were among dozens ushered to a checkpoint for detailed identity checks late Friday. Freelance photographer Tim Evans said he was punched and pepper-sprayed when he was caught up in "the ball rush" by officers who ignored his assertions that he was a credentialed journalist.
Earlier, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Minnesota law enforcement from arresting or using force against journalists covering protests.
Staff writer Pamela Miller contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-4028
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