Hundreds of people of all races and backgrounds congregated Friday evening near police headquarters in north Minneapolis for an emotional rally and candlelight vigil that culminated a week of protests over officers’ fatal shooting of an unarmed black man.
The president of the national NAACP, who met with state and city leaders earlier in the day at Gov. Mark Dayton’s residence in St. Paul, was among those speaking at the peaceful rally, which many participants called the most significant and inspiring local civil rights gathering in years.
“We are not here to tell you what to do,” Cornell Brooks, head of the national NAACP, told the emotional crowd. “I believe in what’s happening in Minneapolis.”
The death of Jamar Clark, 24, shot in the head during a scuffle Sunday on the city’s North Side, has galvanized Minnesota activists — from North Side residents to Black Lives Matter activists to the NAACP — and garnered national attention. As protesters have camped outside Fourth Precinct headquarters on Plymouth Avenue N. and engaged in sometimes tense confrontations with officers, police and civic leaders have pleaded for time to thoroughly investigate the shooting, which is also being examined by federal officials and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
Police have said that Clark lunged for an officer’s gun and interfered with officers and paramedics responding to a domestic dispute in which a woman had been injured. The officers involved in Clark’s death, Mark Ringgenberg, 30, and Dustin Schwarze, 28, are on paid leave.
After the rally, the group marched to the spot a few blocks away where Clark was shot. There, Nekima Levy-Pounds, the Minneapolis NAACP chapter president, said “it could have been any one of us who died.”
“This isn’t about demonizing the Police Department,” she said. “But we are going to get the truth one way or another.”
Civil rights activists present
City Council Member Blong Yang, whose district includes the North Side, and his wife attended the rally. Protesters have called for Yang to join some fellow council members in pushing the city to quickly release tapes of the shooting. He said Friday that he doesn’t have the authority to make such a demand. “Legally speaking, we have no control over the tapes at this point,” he said.
Other speakers at Friday’s rally included the Rev. Brian Herron of Minneapolis’ Zion Baptist Church, longtime civil rights activist Josie Johnson and Mahmoud El-Kati, a former Macalester College professor and an African-American history expert.
“I’ve been to rallies in Ferguson, South Charleston, Los Angeles, Staten Island and Cleveland,” the NAACP’s Brooks said. “We need to turn up the heat and be in the fight for the long run.”
Hours earlier, Brooks met with Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and others.
“We were talking about community policing and some of the other steps we can take in Minnesota in the future to prevent this kind of tragedy, and I am certainly very interested to pursue those discussions,” Dayton said.
As for specific changes, the governor said he is still mulling ways to rebuild trust between black residents and police.
“I couldn’t give you an answer to that today, except that I asked the president of the NAACP to give us some examples of other states, in terms of community policing, in terms of various outreach that can be made,” he said. “I want very much to learn from what other states are doing better than Minnesota.”
Throughout Friday, the scene at precinct headquarters was peaceful, with some protesters warming themselves at campfires and donning donated hats and mittens. Among those dropping by to express support were clergy members and students from nearby Anwatin Middle School.
Some protesters worked to clear the streets of debris, while others directed traffic.
Helen Williams, who has lived in north Minneapolis for more than 40 years, came to sweep the street and show her support for protesters. Williams, who has long helped families bury their dead when they cannot afford it, said she is helping the Clark family plan for their son’s funeral.
“I’m here to do my part to offer crowd control and hugs,” she said.
‘We are all one’
Several Minnesota progressive and labor groups issued statements urging a thorough and transparent investigation. State DFL Chair Ken Martin said, “It is hard to have hope for the future when it seems that our community has turned an indifferent eye to the very real and persistent issues facing communities of color in Minnesota. The DFL stands by everyone working peacefully for a transparent investigation and to bring the conversation of fairness and justice to the forefront.”
A coalition of leaders from African immigrant communities said at a news conference in Brooklyn Park that immigrant groups support protesters’ call for clarity and justice in the Clark case.
“The African community is united with our African-American brothers and sisters,” said Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of the group African Immigrant Services. “We are all one. A harm to one is a harm to all of us.”
Early in the day, a divided Minneapolis City Council met in a closed session. City Attorney Susan Segal said the council received a briefing from the city’s emergency management director, Barret Lane, and a police update.
The issue has exposed divisions among council members, some of whom have occasionally joined the protest. North Side council members have criticized their colleagues for participating in the occupation of the precinct, calling their actions unhelpful.
On Friday afternoon, tensions between the police union and Chief Janeé Harteau spilled over when Lt. Bob Kroll, head of the police union, said on WCCO Radio that Harteau has not handled the crisis well and that she should have ordered an immediate clearing of the protesters’ camp.
Chief speaks briefly
The chief appeared before the crowd around 8:30 p.m., speaking behind a double barricade at the precinct’s main entrance. She tried to talk to individual demonstrators, but those unable to hear quickly became agitated and urged her to get a microphone.
A bystander yelled, “we want to be able to hear you so we can hold you accountable.”
“I don’t have tapes to release,” Harteau calmly told one protester. “I thought I’d come out and talk to you, but if you only want to talk to someone who has the power to release tapes, that’s not me.”
The crowd began chanting “show the tapes,” and Harteau left a minute later, going back inside the precinct.
The BCA has several videos of the shooting but none shows the event in its entirety. The videos will not be released until the investigation is finished, the agency said.
At the outset, police leaders and Kroll said Clark was not handcuffed at the time he was shot. The BCA said handcuffs were at the scene and agents were working to determine whether they were on Clark.
Police records show no disciplinary actions directed at Ringgenberg. Schwarze has been the subject of one case closed with no discipline; another remains under investigation. Both men have been police officers for seven years, including 13 months apiece with the Minneapolis department.
Late Friday, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Vanita Gupta and Minneapolis FBI Division chief Richard Thornton issued a joint statement emphasizing that the shooting is under intensive investigation and adding: “Release of any evidence, including any video, during an ongoing investigation would be extremely detrimental to the investigation. We are conducting our investigation in a fair, thorough, and expeditious manner.”
As Friday night drew to a close, protesters remained at the site, chanting and singing peacefully. Although it appeared that the rally had helped ease tensions, questions about Clark’s death were no closer to being answered.
Said Dayton: “I just pray that we will be able to get through this terrible, terrible time, all of us together in a way that only strengthens our overall Minnesota community.”