Minnesota mayor blasts police tactics to control protesters

Published 5:31 pm Friday, April 16, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

BROOKLYN CENTER — Elected leaders in the Minneapolis suburb where a police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright want officers to scale back their tactics amid nightly protests, leaving some law enforcement called in to assist asking whether the city still wants their help.

Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered outside the heavily guarded Brooklyn Center police station every night since former Officer Kim Potter, who is white, shot the 20-year-old 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 riot police.

People who live in the area say many of their neighbors are staying in hotels or with relatives to avoid the noise as well as the tear gas that seeps into their homes.

Email newsletter signup

“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 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 Friday.

But Brooklyn Center police aren’t dealing with protesters on their own. Other agencies, including the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department 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.

Protests have continued since 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.

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.

Shay Jones, who lives in an apartment across the street from the police station, said her 15-year-old daughter has been sick since tear gas seeped into their home. Jones, 32, also said some protesters broke a lock on the building, running through the stairs and hallways and writing on walls.

“All these ‘booms,’” she said. “Oh, man … you can’t even sleep at night.”

Tensions were already high amid the nearby trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death last year of George Floyd. Then on Thursday, Chicago officials released graphic video showing an officer fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo, a Latino boy, in March. And On Friday,  transcripts were released  showing that a grand jury investigating the police suffocation death of Daniel Prude last year in Rochester, New York, voted 15-5 not to charge the three officers involved in his restraint.

Brooklyn Center has instituted curfews since Wright’s death.

Local Progress Minnesota, a group of liberal-leaning local elected officials, echoed the call for an end to using tear gas and decried the curfews.

“The last few nights have been marred with unconscionable acts of oppression,” the group said in a letter. “This is not how we build a safer place for one another.”

Walz told reporters that protesters might have burned down the police station and other buildings if police hadn’t intervened — a lesson he says he learned after a Minneapolis police station burned during protests last year over Floyd’s death. Those demonstrations damaged more than 1,000 buildings across the Twin Cities area.

“I trust our safety officials to be very judicious and think about this,” Walz said.

Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.

Body camera video shows Wright struggling with police after they say they’re going to arrest him. Potter, a 26-year veteran, pulls her service pistol and is heard repeatedly yelling “Taser!” before firing. She then says, “Holy (expletive), I shot him.”