MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Officers and Black Lives Matter protesters clashed Wednesday night outside of a Minneapolis police station after a very tense day.
The situation escalated when someone threw a portion of a brick in the direction of the Fourth Precinct building, leading officers to fire what is called a “marking round” at him.
The rounds are essentially paint balls that mark clothing so suspects can be singled out for arrest. Police say the man fled the area and has not been caught.
Police also used chemical irritants on some of the crowd. WCCO’s Reg Chapman was hit by the spray, but says he did not know where it came from. Chapman says protesters insisted that it came from police in the precinct’s parking lot.
Police officials repeatedly denied this claim through the night. It was only after Chapman’s report aired on the 10 p.m. news that police acknowledged he was “more than likely” hit by residual spray from an officer.
Police officials also said several squad cars parked in the precinct’s lot sustained “significant damage” from bricks.
A number of officers removed Black Lives Matter protesters Wednesday afternoon from the vestibule of the north Minneapolis police precinct where people had been staying since a fatal police shooting sparked protests over the weekend.
The removal led to a noisy stand-off between police and protesters. Police said rocks and bottles were thrown and that they took two people into custody, arresting one and releasing another. Some officers in riot gear eventually responded to the scene.
The recent protests stem from the Sunday shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, who police say was a suspect in a domestic assault call. Community members say Clark was in handcuffs when a police officer shot him in the head. Police have said he was not in handcuffs.
For four straight days, groups of protesters have camped around the 4th Precinct and inside the building’s vestibule. Chief Janee Harteau said she made the call to remove people from the building.
“We have a responsibility to maintain public safety,” she said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
She said that after the shooting, a group of women had been staying inside the vestibule. As the days went by, more people were showing up – even smoking marijuana – and making it difficult for people to get into the building.
Shvonne Johnson, the former assistant dean of students at St. Catherine University, told WCCO-TV she was inside the vestibule with students when officers came to get them out. She said as they were donating supplies and taking photos of the entrance way when officers charged at them in a threatening way.
At the afternoon press conference, police described the event differently.
Inspector Michael Friestleben said officers in regular uniforms had planned to ask the women politely to leave the vestibule when a chaotic scene erupted.
“As we approached the door, people were throwing rocks and bottles at officers,” he said. “As we opened the door, all the young ladies ran out.”
Police then took down a banner that said “Black Lives Matter” and used a barrier to block protesters from the building.
Black Lives Matter called out on Twitter for people to come down to the precinct. Protesters chanted and eventually made a human chain along the front of the precinct.
Friestleben said that police arrested one man outside the precinct who’d punched a state trooper in the face during a protest on Interstate 94 Monday night.
Officers also brought a man into custody who threw a bottle at police during Wednesday’s protest. He was released shortly after.
Mayor Betsy Hodges, who was also at Wednesday’s press conference, said she stands by the police department’s decision to remove protesters from the building.
“I completely support peoples’ rights to assemble,” she said. “That said, we have to balance that against public safety.”
Protesters say it was Hodges who made the call to remove protesters.
“We think that it was a direct call from the mayor, because we just recently had a meeting with her, probably an hour before police descended on these peaceful protesters,” Michael McDowell of Black Lives Matter said.
Another protester said they want the mayor to take action.
“We’re really not seeing a response that we feel like is the mayor holding these cops accountable, holding them to the truth of what happened, and really standing up for this community,” Lena K. Gardner of Black Lives Matter said.
Following the press conference, protesters were still gathering outside the 4th precinct. Police said they will be working with protest organizers to make sure they have a place to demonstrate.
Mayor Hodges released a statement on the night’s protests later in the evening:
“I understand that emotions are running high in the community and across the city. I share many of the emotions that people are feeling in Minneapolis today. I firmly believe in everyone’s right to protest and understand that people want to have places where they can gather and do that peacefully. We also want to ensure everyone’s safety. Chief Harteau and I are asking officers to exercise maximum restraint, and are asking protesters to act peacefully. I thank the many officers and protesters who are doing just that.”