Protecting protesters in the wake of Minneapolis shootings

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

When gunmen fired at a group of demonstrators Monday night, 10 days of mostly peaceful protests in north Minneapolis took a terrible turn.

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Several men who had behaved suspiciously reportedly were being chased by Black Lives Matter supporters when they turned, shot and wounded five protesters about a block from the protest site next to the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct. The shooting occurred at 10:45 p.m., making it easier for the gunmen to open fire before escaping into darkness. The protest encampment had been set up to protest the Nov. 15 officer-involved shooting death of Jamar Clark.

Since the vigil began 11 days ago, harsh words have been exchanged and some property damage has occurred, but for the most part the protests have been peaceful. That all changed Monday, making it sensible for protesters to heed the request of the grieving Clark family that they disband the tent camp for the safety of the demonstrators and the public.

The victims, all black men, were taken to hospitals with noncritical injuries, according to police. Authorities are reportedly discussing whether the incident should be treated as a hate crime.

There’s no reason peaceful protests shouldn’t continue, but they should occur under the safest possible circumstances. Holding rallies and marches during daylight hours, with appropriate security and communication with police, would make it less likely that protesters and the public would be at risk. Previous Black Lives Matter events in Minneapolis and St. Paul — as wwell as Tuesday’s march and rally downtown — have been peaceful, in part because they most often have been announced in advance and leaders have collaborated with city and law enforcement officials.

Demonstrators should also take note of how many of their concerns already have been addressed. They demanded an independent investigation of Clark’s death, and that effort is underway. They wanted the names of the officers involved in the shooting, and they have been identified. Meanwhile, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, Police Chief Janeé Harteau and Gov. Mark Dayton have kept the lines of communication open with the Clark family and the protesters.

The last remaining demand is for the release of relevant video. Though this page favors as much transparency as possible during high-profile cases, investigators need to have time to interview witnesses who have not been influenced by evidence being prematurely released. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger assured an editorial writer this week that the investigation will be thorough and remain independent of the efforts of Minneapolis police.

As the fact-finding continues in the Clark case, authorities must also seek justice for those shot Monday night. In the meantime, hopefully Black Lives Matter organizers and their supporters will take the advice of Clark’s brother Eddie Sutton.

“We appreciate Black Lives Matter for holding it down and keeping the protests peaceful,” Sutton said. “But in light of tonight’s shootings, the family feels out of imminent concern for the safety of the occupiers, we must get the occupation of the Fourth Precinct ended and onto the next step.”