FULTON — Scores marched from the site where a woman was fatally shot by police to a park near Lake Harriet on Thursday, demanding justice for the woman and victims of other police shootings.
Neighbors, activists and the mom of the woman’s fiancée spoke at a subsequent rally. Neighbors said the shooting rattled their trust in police and vowed to work for systemic change. Activists expressed hope it would be a step in bringing about that change.
“Today I feel scared. I don’t feel safe in my neighborhood,” said neighbor Sarah Kuhnen. ” … This is not about one police officer. This is about a broken system of policing.”
The rally came five days after the woman, 40-year-old Justine Ruszczyk, died in the alleyway behind West 51st Street and Washburn Avenue South, after being shot by Officer Mohamed Noor. Ruszczyk had called 911 about a possible assault near her house prior to the shooting. Officer Noor and Officer Matthew Harrity responded to the scene, driving through the alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues toward West 51st Street in search of a suspect.
Harrity indicated to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad as they reached West 51st Street. Immediately afterward, Ruszczyk approached the driver’s side window of the squad. Noor, who was in the passenger’s seat, fired his weapon, striking Ruszczyk through the open driver’s side window, according to Harrity. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Body cameras were not turned on until after the shooting incident, according to the BCA. The squad camera was not turned on.
“Justice for Justine”
Thursday’s rally began near the intersection of 51st & Washburn. People held signs that said “Justice for Justine.” Others held signs with names of others killed by police, such as Jamar Clark and Philando Castile.
Mayor Betsy Hodges was in the crowd but declined to be interviewed.
“Tonight I’m just here to be with my neighbors,” she said.
The march began with remarks from Rev. Ashley Harness, a pastor at Lyndale United Church of Christ. People marched up Washburn Avenue, led by Zach Damond, the son of Ruszczyk’s fiancee, Don Damond.
Marchers stopped at Don Damond’s home on Washburn, and Damond came out and gestured in appreciation. Castile’s mom, Valerie Castile, came out of the home and hugged family members.
“I had to come out here and make sure you guys are okay,” she said, joining the front of the march.
Four children were at the front of the march behind a sign that said “Unite for Justice.” People in their yards watched as marchers passed. One woman held up a peace sign.
Once at the park, Don Damond’s mother, Sharon Sebring, praised the community, the media and neighbors for their respect and support.
“The is the kind of country we have, right here,” she said.
Neighbor Jenelle Masterson read a note by her husband, Ryan. Kuhnen, also a neighbor, offered her condolences to Ruszczyk’s family and expressed concerns about calling the police.
“Who do I call now if I need help?” she asked. “I just don’t know any more.”
John Thompson, a friend of Philando Castile, said he’s asked before for white allies. Some didn’t hear him, he said, and some didn’t want to hear him.
“What happened to Justine hit home for some people in this neighborhood,” he said. “… What they didn’t know is that we are united and we are coming to break your system.”
Attorney, activist and mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds also spoke at the rally. She vowed that Ruszczyk’s death would not be in vain.
“Our Legislature needs to know that police reform is one of the top issues we need in the state of Minnesota,” she said.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said Thursday that she believes the actions in question went against MPD values and expectations.
“These were the actions and judgement of one invididual,” she said.
She said she spoke with Ruszczyk’s fiancée Thursday morning and had a positive conversation with him.
“What I’ve assured the family is justice,” she said. “The officer does have due process, and it’s my goal to assure that due process is followed so that justice can be served.”
Harteau had been on previously scheduled personal time, and Assistant Chief Medaria Arradondo had addressed media in two previous press conferences. She said Thursday that she had been backpacking through the mountains in a remote place and had tried to return.
“There isn’t anything that hadn’t been done because I wasn’t here,” she said.
She said that her belief is that the body cameras should have been activated. The department is making changes to ensure cameras are on well in advance and will be introducing new technology to help avoid human error, she said. That could include technology that would activate the camera when an officer removes the gun from the holster or when squad care lights are activated.
She said she understands residents’ fears of calling 911 and acknowledged the potential ramifications on community trust.
She dismissed the notion that Noor was an affirmative action hire.
“This is about an individual officer’s actions,” she said. “It’s not about race or ethnicity.”
She addressed a KSTP-TV report from the week before the shooting on officer usage of body cameras, saying she doesn’t believe officers are recording enough. The cameras were rolled out just eight months ago, and it may not be second nature for officers to put their cameras on yet, she said.
She said she’s concerned about the impact of the shooting on Somali and East African officers and that she’s reached out to the Somali community in Minneapolis. She said she has nothing to question on the credibility of the BCA, which is investigating the incident.
Noor is one of several Somali American police officers on the Minneapolis force. Harteau had only talked to him in passing. She said she would prefer that he speaks about the incident either to the department’s internal investigators or the BCA.
“There are questions that need to be answered,” she said. “He’s the only one who has those answers.”