A sixth night of protests outside the twin-fenced Brooklyn Center police headquarters ended within a few chaotic minutes Friday night when the National Guard and State Patrol rushed in to disperse the crowd and make arrests.
At its peak, the crowd protesting Sunday’s fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by a former Brooklyn Center police officer had swelled to about 1,000 people, one of the week’s largest. Early on, the protest had the air of a block party. But everything changed about 9 p.m., when arguments erupted within the crowd about protest tone and tactics after one speaker called for the fences to be rushed and taken down.
While troops and officers had stood back behind the fences and watched most of the night, they quickly issued dispersal orders, fired flash-bang grenades and moved in to arrest people after the call to breach the fences and when an increasing number of objects were thrown at them by a few protesters.
No official curfew had been declared for Friday night.
Early on, the protest felt like a party, with fresh produce, s’mores and other food distributed, messages such as “We demand change” written on chalk on the pavement, chanting, singing, prayers and a short march up and down N. Humboldt Avenue.
Then the mood darkened.
Accusing some in the crowd of being too passive, Royce White, a former professional basketball player and co-founder of a group called 10K, called on the Black men in the crowd to storm the fence because Black men “are the ones getting killed by police.”
“The fence represents tyranny. The fence is a smack in the face. The fence is spitting on Daunte Wright’s face.… We have the numbers. We should continue to push.”
But many others shouted denunciations of White and his group and cried out that the pleas of the majority of Black protesters, especially women, should be heeded.
As the fences were rattled and White spoke, the first flash-bang grenade was fired at protesters, some of whom were throwing objects over the fence. There would be many more in the coming minutes, and several protesters who were struck by projectiles called out for medics.
The fences being rattled were heavily festooned with vehicle air fresheners, a reference to Wright’s mother’s assertion that her son had one dangling from his rearview mirror when he was stopped and fatally shot by former officer Kimberly Potter.
Earlier in the evening, Tiffany Burns, the sister of Jamar Clark, who was killed by Minneapolis police in 2015, and Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, were among several demonstrators wearing bathrobes in support of Samira Hassan, a Brooklyn Center resident who was arrested in her bathrobe Wednesday night while watching protests, just after being interviewed by a local journalist.
“We want a federal investigation into all these departments — the ones that have murdered our loved ones, to be prosecuted and charged, cases reopened,” Garraway said when asked what justice means to her.
John Martin, a former volunteer at the Wall of Forgotten Natives in Minneapolis, said he had an encounter with former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, now on trial in the death of George Floyd, in 2007, and came to Brooklyn Center as soon as he heard about Wright’s death.
“Bring it to the police department where the argument should be taken, a place where you should demand questions and answers for the reason why” someone died, he said. “Why did [former officer Potter] even do it? She knows her belt.”
Many families who live in the apartment complex at 6700 N. Humboldt Av., which is across from police headquarters, have temporarily moved out to escape the nightly protests. But residents Duke McClain and Johnny Tolliver said they’re staying to defend the building.
“I support everything the crowd’s doing to the police as long as they’re hurting nothing over here, and they’re keeping everything toward the police,” McClain said. “I got four kids, so we’re just trying to protect our building. People have been breaking in and trying to get on the roof [sometimes to take photos] and stuff like that, so we’re just being cautious. It’s been crazy out here.”
Tolliver called the multiday standoffs “lawlessness and chaos.”
“It’s traumatizing to watch it, traumatizing to be in,” he said. “Innocent people are getting sprayed with tear gas. … Right now it seems like we’re in a third-world country.”
Tolliver said he’s seen the same things play out several times as provocateurs throw something at officers and they respond with pepper spray or other measures against a largely peaceful crowd.
Thursday protest represented a remarkable de-escalation by both sides that Tolliver praised, although his hopes that Friday would be similar did not come to fruition. As for his personal views about Wright’s death, he said he’d like to see Potter, who shot the 20-year-old Black man, face more severe charges than second-degree manslaughter — a common theme among protesters every night this week.
Four Star Tribune journalists were among dozens ushered to a checkpoint for detailed identity checks late Friday. Freelance photographer Tim Evans said he was punched and pepper-sprayed when he was caught up in “the ball rush” by officers who ignored his assertions that he was a credentialed journalist.
Earlier in the evening, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Minnesota law enforcement from arresting or using force against journalists covering protests.
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