A sixth night of protests over Daunte Wright’s killing in Brooklyn Center began Friday as a peaceful demonstration and march — and quickly dispersed after law enforcement descended on several hundred protesters a few hours later.
Despite pleas from elected leaders for police restraint, law enforcement on Friday night took aggressive action against protesters. Several hundred demonstrators had gathered near the police department, but dissipated when officers quickly advanced.
Authorities later said the response was prompted by some protesters breaching one of two fences surrounding the Brooklyn Center Police Department, which has been the epicenter of the week’s protests.
Just a few minutes before 10 p.m., an announcement played on a loudspeaker outside the department, declaring the event an unlawful assembly, and asking people to leave.
Within minutes, in what many in the remaining crowd described as a stunning show of force, law enforcement rushed in to the area to corral the crowd — protesters and media alike — and clear the space in front of the police department.
Flash bangs and sponge grenades were fired into the crowd, and officers pepper-sprayed several protesters who neared a group of officers. Protesters scrambled through yards and over backyard fences to evade a perimeter that authorities had set up for a block around the police department.
By 10:36 p.m., authorities announced that the city of Brooklyn Center had issued an emergency curfew, to begin at 11 p.m.
Earlier on Friday, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott announced that he would not issue a curfew for his city that night, in a change of policy from earlier in the week.
Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered outside the heavily guarded Brooklyn Center police station every night since former Officer Kim Potter, who is white, shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black motorist, during a traffic stop on Sunday. Protesters have shouted profanities, launched fireworks, shaken a security fence surrounding the building and lobbed water bottles at officers. Police have driven away protesters with tear gas grenades, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and long lines of officers in riot gear.
Potter was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter. The former police chief in the majority nonwhite suburb said Potter fired her pistol when she meant to use her Taser, but protesters and Wright’s family say there’s no excuse for the shooting. Both Potter and the chief resigned Tuesday.
A clash over police tactics
Nightly protests earlier in the week were met with force and numerous arrests after they extended past curfew. But by Thursday evening, the scene around the police department was much calmer. Authorities did not issue dispersal orders and allowed the crowd to leave on its own.
At a midnight news conference after the vastly different events of Friday night, Minnesota’s public safety commissioner, John Harrington, said officers were prepared to repeat the same tactics of patience that they deployed on Thursday.
But Harrington said Friday’s law enforcement response, in stark contrast to the previous night, was prompted by the actions of the demonstrators who had gathered around the police department. He laid out a timeline of the evening that included people bringing shields and umbrellas and breaching the exterior fence that had been set up along the perimeter of the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
He said upwards of 100 people had been arrested, but did not yet know what they had been charged with.
Harrington was quick to make a distinction between the peaceful march earlier in the day and the crowd that had gathered after dark.
“This is a night that should’ve been about Daunte Wright,” Harrington said. “Tearing down a fence, coming armed to a protest, is not in my mind befitting a peaceful protest. It is not befitting groups that are there to recognize the tragedy that is the loss of Daunte Wright.”
People who live in the area have said many neighbors are staying in hotels or with relatives to avoid the noise as well as the tear gas that seeps into their homes.
“We can’t just have our window open any more without thinking about if there’s going to be some gas coming in,” said 16-year-old Xzavion Martin, adding that rubber bullets and other projectiles have landed on his apartment’s second-story balcony. “There’s kids in this building that are really scared to come back.”
The police tactics have not sat well with Brooklyn Center city officials, who passed a resolution Monday banning the city’s officers from using tear gas and other chemicals, chokeholds, and police lines to arrest demonstrators.
Mayor Mike Elliott, who is Black, said at a news conference Wednesday that “gassing is not a human way of policing” and he didn’t agree with police using pepper spray, tear gas and paintballs against demonstrators. Elliott didn’t respond to multiple messages from the Associated Press on Friday.
Brooklyn Center police aren’t dealing with protesters on their own. Other agencies, including the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota National Guard, have provided support at the city’s request in a joint effort dubbed Operation Safety Net. The city’s resolution isn’t binding on those agencies.
Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson asked Elliott in a letter Wednesday to clarify whether he still wanted the department’s help. The mayor wrote in a letter Thursday that his city still needs help but pressed assisting agencies not to engage with protesters.
“It is my view that as long as protesters are peaceful and not directly interacting with law enforcement, law enforcement should not engage with them,” Elliott wrote. “Again, this is a request and not an attempt to limit necessary law enforcement response.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Jeremy Zoss said Friday that no agencies have pulled out of Brooklyn Center. Scott Wasserman, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said Operation Safety Net’s tactics will not change.
Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat and commander-in-chief of the Minnesota National Guard, said at a Thursday news conference that he’s concerned about tactics but that police are trying to protect the community.
Judge’s order bars force against media
Journalists covering Friday night’s protests were among those swept up in the law enforcement actions.
Reports of individual members of the media being sprayed with chemical irritants, punched in the face and corralled to a location where they were photographed and “processed” came just hours after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Minnesota law enforcement from using force or chemicals against journalists covering protests over Daunte Wright’s killing.
In her order, set to last 14 days, U.S. District Court Judge Wilhelmina Wright prohibits law enforcement from including news media in dispersal orders they issue to crowds.
They are also prohibited from using force and chemical agents against news media — and from seizing equipment, including cameras, recorders and press passes.
The ruling came as part of an ongoing case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union last year on behalf of a freelance journalist who alleged law enforcement officers were targeting media during summer protests after the killing of George Floyd.