Blake Derrick was watching the protests against police violence from the rooftop of his modern apartment building in Uptown when some of the marchers urged him to come down — so he did.
"It's happening too much," Derrick, a 30-year-old medical writer, said of police killings. "We're becoming desensitized."
He believed that the group on W. Lake Street had every right to be there. But he noted that some residents at the Walkway Apartments, which advertises "posh Uptown living," "are scared. Some people are just plain sick of it, to have that noise [outside] their window."
The intense movement against police brutality marched into the heart of Uptown, the hub of trendy nightlife and high-end apartments, over the weekend after Winston Smith, a Black man, was killed there by a federal task force on Thursday. Protesters shut down major intersections, faced walls of police and drew curious looks from bystanders on sleek apartment balconies and at stylish restaurants.
Demonstrators gathered outside the parking garage at W. Lake Street and Girard Avenue where Smith, 32, was shot after dining at Stella's Fish Cafe. Well-wishers left flowers, signs and candles nearby, and scrawled his name and messages about police reform all over the intersection in chalk. Somebody wrote "Wince Way" — using Smith's nickname — on the driveway into the garage.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which led the task force that killed Smith, has said officers shot him after he fired a gun from his car as they tried to arrest him on the fifth floor of the ramp on a warrant of felon in possession of a gun.
The officers were not wearing body cameras, and there is no known video of the incident. Protesters say police have made claims that contradict video so routinely — including initial reports that George Floyd died after a medical incident — that they cannot trust law enforcement accounts without footage.
Protest leaders say it's important for those in Uptown to understand that police accountability is their problem, too.
"A human being has been killed and we still don't know the truth. … This is what we have been talking about for far too long, and there's a lot of communities like Uptown that have thought it ain't coming to their neighborhood," Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told a crowd that had joined him in blocking off Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street over the weekend.
Activists marched through Uptown in 2013 to call for the prosecution of police who shot Terrance Franklin in the basement of a neighborhood house, though most protests over police violence in recent years have been held in other parts of the city — from the North Side to downtown to southeast, where police killed Floyd in May 2020.
Scrutiny over Smith's killing comes as Uptown reels from a rash of business closures, lootings and crime — and the scars of a mass shooting last summer that killed one and injured 11. The pandemic's toll still lingers: the popular Chino Latino restaurant and Apple store have closed after two decades, and Uptown Theatre down the street is being evicted for not paying rent over the last year. Shuttered buildings abound.
Steve Taylor, who runs the Uptown Crime page on Facebook, said he supports the rights of protesters. But he raised concerns that unrelated groups of rioters tend to follow later at night and have already set dumpsters on fire last week and broken into several shops. Police arrested more than two dozen people Friday. He worries that vandals could damage small businesses already struggling to recover.
"Uptown," said Taylor, "has been through so much pain."
'Here we are again'
Protesters planted themselves in the street and renounced "killer cops" last weekend. At Stella's, a waitress took a photo of a smiling couple raising their drinks as demonstrators shouted in the background.
"Everybody that was in Stella's on Thursday, I want y'all to stand up," Smith's brother Kidale Smith called out from the street over the weekend. "Come out. Come find me. I need this information. They want to keep everything hidden, and this is how they get away with everything."
He questioned why the U.S. Marshals Service, which led the task force that killed his older brother, had not released more details.
"I want the U.S. marshals to come down here and face me," Smith declared.
The crowd began marching east on Lake Street.
"Say his name!"
They reached Lyndale and spread out so that cars could no longer pass.
Hussein and others noted that Smith was killed the same day the city moved to reopen George Floyd Square.
"What does that tell you about what's happening?" Hussein asked. "We've got to wake up. They think we gave up. They think we went home."
Civil rights leader Nekima Levy Armstrong took the microphone.
"Give yourselves a hand for being out on these streets on Saturday night in Uptown Minneapolis," she said. "Where we see signs that say 'posh apartments,' where we see some of the finest restaurants … A lot of the people who live over here don't think that the movement affects them because they're comfortable."
But, she added, "we try to warn them that nobody is safe if you allow the police to have unchecked power and no accountability."
Another night of protest
Gesturing to the Walkway Apartments, activist Lavish Mack told a fresh crowd of protesters Sunday night that somebody had thrown a water bottle at him from the balcony earlier.
"They just want their regular status quo," he said.
He led the crowd to the corner of Hennepin and Lagoon avenues. Motorists began turning around as they reached the mass of people in the street. Mack tried to convey that they should be angry at law enforcement, not those protesting the authorities for killing people.
Protesters marched past a series of cops, yelling, "Hands up, don't shoot!" Outdoor diners on Hennepin stared as the marchers' chants of Smith's name overpowered the night. Some raised a fist in solidarity.
As the sky darkened, the protesters faced a wall of police standing in the street once they returned to Lake and Girard. Some passersby honked their horns in support. A few Black participants screamed at a Black policeman in the lineup, questioning how he could be in his line of work. The crowd groaned as Kidale Smith urged a more conciliatory attitude toward law enforcement.
City Council President Lisa Bender came to watch from across the street after putting her children to bed. Barely audible above the crowd's chants, she said that police were escalating tension, and having them be the only response for a protest over a police killing put everyone in an impossible situation.
She had been urging the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to say more about the killing. "I think we will continue to see protests," she said, "until there is more information."
Aaron Lavinsky contributed to this report.
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210