Deadly Minneapolis police standoff revives racial concerns

Published 6:04 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS — The shooting of a young Black man whose family says he was experiencing a mental health crisis has revived some activists’ mistrust of the Minneapolis Police Department and their perception that officers are quick to take Black lives while going to greater lengths to capture white suspects alive.

The department and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension hadn’t said as of Tuesday what led two police snipers to shoot and kill 20-year-old Andrew Tekle Sundberg early Thursday after a six-hour standoff. And they had not released police video of the confrontation.

“We want to be treated the same way they treat white people in the same situation,” said Trahern Crews, a leader of Black Lives Matter Minnesota and an organizer of a protest at the scene.

Police said they rushed to the scene after a 911 call from a woman who said a neighbor — Sundberg — was firing a gun into her apartment and endangering her 2- and 4-year-old sons. They said they evacuated the woman and other residents and worked for hours to persuade Sundberg to surrender.

“All were working together to try and reach a peaceful resolution amid dangerous circumstances while keeping nearby residents safe,” Mayor Jacob Frey said at the time. He called it “not the outcome anyone wanted.” City officials have been silent since then on exactly why officers fired, with the investigation now in the hands of the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Sundberg’s death comes just over two years after the killing of George Floyd by Officer Derek Chauvin, and a few months after the killing of Amir Locke by a Minneapolis SWAT team member just seconds after they burst into an apartment to execute a no-knock search warrant. Prosecutors declined to charge the officer because Locke raised a gun, but Locke’s family said the Black man was just startled.

The fact that the standoff lasted six hours doesn’t matter in determining whether the shooting of Sundberg was justified, said John Baker, a professor of criminal justice studies at St. Cloud State University who trains aspiring law enforcement officers.

“What matters is, at the time the snipers fired, what was going on? Was there an imminent threat to themselves or others at that specific time?” Baker said. He said the fact that both officers fired suggested they were ordered to do so.

“I just cannot see a scenario in this day and age — as well as these cops are trained in de-escalation — anyone is going to give them the order to stop this unless there is an imminent threat to the lives of police officers or other people,” he said.

A demonstration outside the building turned tense Saturday when Arabella Foss-Yarbrough, the neighbor who called 911, confronted Crews and other protesters. She said the situation was not comparable to the killing of Floyd, who was unarmed, and asked whether the protesters would have stood up for her if she had been killed.

“This is not OK,” Yarbrough shouted at the protesters. “If I’m going to die, would he be a bad guy then?”

Sundberg often went by his middle name of Tekle. His parents, Mark and Cindy Sundberg, who are white and adopted him from Ethiopia when he was a young child, were at the protest. They expressed sympathy for Foss-Yarbrough but said they did not believe their son deserved to die.

Their attorney, Jeff Storms, who’s also part of the Floyd family’s legal team, did not immediately respond to messages Tuesday.

Crews, the Black Lives Matter activist, said in an interview that protesters “were in no way condoning what Tekle did.”

But he said he and other protesters don’t believe the police were justified in killing Sundberg. He pointed out that police shot Sundberg several hours after they evacuated people from the building and surrounding area. To Crews, it was just another example of a Black man getting killed in a confrontation with police, while suspects of other races are taken alive. He pointed out that on the same morning Sundberg was killed, police in the southern Minnesota city of Faribault captured a man alive after a five-hour standoff by using less-lethal munitions. Faribault police identified him as Hispanic, and he’s now free on bail.

“He’s alive, and this is in Minnesota on the same day Tekle was killed. He can talk about it. Tekle can’t talk about it,” he said. “That’s why we’re upset.”

Crews also cited the capture of the white gunman charged in the slayings of seven people at a July 4 parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, and the white 18-year-old charged with fatally shooting 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May. And he contrasted them with the police killings of Jayland Walker last month in Akron, Ohio, and Thurman Blevins in Minneapolis in 2018, two Black men who were fleeing officers when they were shot.