Justine Damond’s neighbors grill city leaders after verdict

Mayor Jacob Frey, Council Member Linea Palmisano and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo hosted a listening session at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community on May 7. Photo by Zac Farber

Members of Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s community had the chance to explain why they still fear and distrust Minneapolis police as city leaders sat and listened.   

About 100 people gathered on May 7 at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, where Damond taught meditation classes before officer Mohamed Noor shot and killed her in July 2017. Noor was found guilty of Damond’s murder on April 30.

“I feel as though the Minneapolis Police Department was convicted along with Noor,” Mindy Barry, a neighbor of Damond, said. “I’ve lost faith in the system that I think covered up a lot of what happened in Justine’s case.”

During the listening session, hosted by Mayor Jacob Frey, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Council Member Linea Palmisano (Ward 13), many took the opportunity to plead for increased police accountability and to raise concerns about cops who refuse to turn on body cameras and police union leaders who continue to support “warrior-style trainings.”

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has acknowledged significant errors in the investigation of Damond’s murder by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and a number of speakers demanded that closed BCA cases be reopened.

“If the BCA was incompetent in this case, then the likelihood they’re incompetent in other cases exists,” activist Mel Reeves said. “We don’t see much difference between the way Justine got her life ended and the way Jamar Clark got his life ended. Both were unnecessary.”

Arradondo defended the police department against criticism that there is a “blue wall of silence” that shields bad actors from justice. He said the phrase implies that “every single officer in the department is involved in covering up something.”

“Have we had officers who have lied? Absolutely,” he said, but “I do not believe that every single man and woman who wears this uniform comes to work lying.” He added that those who lie “have forfeited [their] right to be a Minneapolis police officer.”

Noor is the first on-duty police officer to be convicted of murder in Minnesota, and the fact that he is a black, Muslim, Somali man and Damond was a white woman has led many to see race and prejudice as factors in the outcome of the case. 

“As a woman in my neighborhood, I don’t feel comfortable calling the police,” said Sarah Kuhnen, a Fulton resident who has been active in the group Justice for Justine. “I don’t know how to fix that. And I realize, in my whiteness, that’s something people of color have been carrying their whole damn life.”

A Linden Hills resident named nance kent is working on “my own internalized racism as a white person” and said they wanted police to be trained in race-based psychological trauma.

“Most of the violence from the police is against black and brown and indigenous people,” they said. “In my white body, I am afraid of black bodies, and the only thing I can do is be aware of it and work on it and consciously try to be not so dangerous.”

Mayor Frey responded that “every one of our police officers in the MPD and every single person in this room, including myself, has implicit bias.” He noted that a training in implicit bias has been given to MPD officers since 2015.

John Robertson had plenty of critical words for city leaders, but he said that with the automatic weapons and assault rifles on the streets, “this is a scary time to be a police officer.”

“I would be afraid as Noor was afraid,” he said.

John Barry said he was appalled to hear Noor’s partner, officer Michael Harrity, testify that he responds to calls considering everything to be a threat “until it’s not a threat anymore.”

“It makes me shake thinking about that because my son was out minutes before Justine was killed,” Barry said. “He had just gotten new shoes and we allowed him to run around the block, and the thought of officer Harrity thinking of my son as a threat and possibly shooting him makes me sick to my stomach.”

A number of speakers throughout the evening thanked Frey, Arradondo and Palmisano for coming to the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community to listen and encouraged them to hold similar events on the North Side and in other parts of the city more affected by police violence.

“I have become radicalized in this process,” Fred Kuhnen said, “understanding quickly that it wasn’t just a single action around the corner from us, but this was another chapter in this unfortunate book.”