Protesters regroup with City Hall rally, march to Northeast

Activists held a "4th Precinct Shutdown Eviction" rally at City Hall in December 2015. File photo by Sarah McKenzie

Black Lives Matter leaders turned their attention to City Hall and held a large rally with hundreds of supporters Thursday evening after police removed their encampment from the 4th Precinct early in the morning.

Following a nearly two-hour rally in the rotunda, they marched to Northeast Minneapolis with the goal of confronting the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union representing officers. They gathered outside of Elsie’s, but the restaurant locked its doors. They converged with another group of protesters and then moved on to the federation’s headquarters at 1811 University Ave. NE.

Protest leaders once again led marchers by chanting and singing from the back of a red pickup truck. They reiterated their demands  — release of tapes showing Jamar Clark’s shooting death, the appointment of a special prosecutor and no grand jury pending the outcome of the investigation of officers involved in Clark’s death, and the creation of a safety plan to protect Minneapolis residents from police violence.

Police removed the protesters’ encampment at the 4th Precinct shortly before 4 a.m. and arrested eight protesters who have since been released from custody.

Activists had been camped out at the precinct since the Nov. 15 fatal police shooting of Clark, a 24-year-old black man who died of a gunshot wound to the head following an altercation with two police officers who are now under investigation by the FBI and state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said dispersal orders were given to protesters and then police proceeded to clear out the site around 3:45 a.m. The protesters arrested failed to comply with orders to move outside of the perimeter placed around the precinct, Harteau said. Seven were arrested for obstructing the legal process and one for trespassing.

At a press conference Thursday morning with Mayor Betsy Hodges, Harteau said city leaders began working on a strategic plan to remove the encampment after it became clear that protesters would not be leaving voluntarily.

“It was time,” Hodges said. “We have been balancing the safety needs of the precinct with the right for people to protest and have their voices be heard. But the increasing safety risks, impact on the neighborhood and impact on our ability to provide service to the city made this morning the time to do that.”

Hodges said she was thankful for officers and protesters who acted peacefully and professionally during the removal of the encampment.

 “It is time to pivot to a moment of working together on the issues we all care about — to create One Minneapolis and move forward together,” she said.

Kandace Montgomery, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, had harsh words for the mayor and other city leaders.

“This morning Mayor Hodges, Council member Blong Yang and Barb Johnson, and Minneapolis Police showed yet again that they would rather tear down black communities than address the needs of our community,” she said in a statement. “Though they destroyed the community space we created, they will not destroy our resolve to fight until we get justice for Jamar Clark, or the bonds created across a diverse set of communities.”

Harteau said police will continue to honor protesters’ First Amendment rights, but will not allow activists to violate city ordinances and state laws by burning fires and setting up tents at protest sites. She said the police department has spent $750,000 in overtime costs since the protests began.

Hodges said she and other city leaders have been having daily conversations with Black Lives Matter leaders and wants to keep the communication channels open. “I am still willing to have conversations with folks and have extended that hand,” she said.

The mayor, Congressman Keith Ellison and many North Side leaders called on protesters to end the occupation of the 4th Precinct on Monday.

In an interview with MPR News, Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds urged people to get involved and support the protesters. “I urge people of good conscience and good will to get involved in this movement,” she said.

She said elected officials in the city and state have been too slow to propose meaningful policy solutions to address the city’s significant racial disparities and issues with police brutality.

“This occupation has been a wake-up call for people,” she said. “We can no longer sit idly by and tolerate the injustices.”

The City Council’s Public Safety & Regulatory Services Committee held an impromptu hearing Wednesday afternoon to take testimony from residents who have been frustrated by the presence of the encampment — a move that angered many protesters who weren’t given notice about the opportunity to speak before the Council.

City Council Member Blong Yang (Ward 5), chair of the committee, said he has compiled a lengthy list of complaints about the encampment from neighbors of the 4th Precinct.

“I am just tired of this,” Yang said. “[The encampment] needs to be gone.”

Meanwhile, City Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2), who has been a supporter of the protesters, wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook page critical of Wednesday’s hearing.

“Clearly, the police shooting of Jamar Clark and the protests that have followed are of deep concern to residents throughout the city. Many residents are anxious for a chance to share their concerns, views and ideas with their elected city leaders,” he wrote. “A thoughtful, well planned and well facilitated listening session certainly seems appropriate. In fact, it might offer a chance for the Council to help people listen to each other, better understand their differences, and in doing so, move closer to finding common ground to help us move forward towards finding solutions, resolving conflicts and setting a course to reach the values and goals we all share.”

City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) echoed those comments in a post on her Facebook page.

“I hope we can soon find a way to facilitate the discussion our city needs us to have at the city council about Jamar’s death, police violence and racial injustice. I hope we can start really listening to what people are trying to tell us. I think we will find a lot of common ground across the city, a common understanding that things need to change,” she wrote.

Several local LGBT organizations also signed on to a statement of support for Black Lives Matter on Thursday.

Here’s an excerpt: “As allies to this movement we believe that our first job is to listen and to ask how we can support Black Lives Matter, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the NAACP, and other organizations taking the lead to end racially biased violence here in Minnesota. Our job is to listen first, and then to act. We are not coming in recommending strategies. We are curious, open and learning. We are educating our communities and our organizations on why it is important for LGBTQ communities to stand with black communities — why our politics, our values and our liberation are bound together. Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities across socio-economic, health and environmental conditions. We are committed for the long haul of actively working to create a more equitable state.”