GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn (WCCO) – Gov. Tim Walz says law enforcement officers should be “judicious” when using certain crowd-control tactics, like tear gas, on protestors, but that non-lethal means can be necessary to defuse “really dangerous situations.”

Walz spoke with reporters Thursday at a pop-up vaccine site in Golden Valley.

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“I’ve seen many cases, both here and other places, when these things are used without a clear goal of what they’re trying to do and they’re used indiscriminately to just panic a crowd,” said Walz. “I trust our safety officials to be very judicious and think about this.”

“We need to protect people’s rights to petition their government and First Amendment rights, and we need to strike that balance of making sure no one and no property or no people are put in a situation,” Walz added. “And if that means deploying these at a critical time, that needs to happen.”

The governor’s comments come as law enforcement officers dispatched to Brooklyn Center are facing criticism for using chemicals and projectiles during protests outside of the police department for the last several nights since Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop on Sunday. The now-former officer, Kim Potter, had her first court appearance on Thursday for second-degree manslaughter charges.

“We have seen justification of that violence and abuse from the governor and those in command as far as law enforcement is concerned,” said activist and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong outside of the Hennepin County Government Center, where Derek Chauvin’s murder trial for George Floyd’s death is nearing its end.

Those who live close to the Brooklyn Center Police Department have become collateral damage, as the tear gas wafts into their homes. In some cases, residents at nearby apartment buildings are putting wet towels against windows in an effort to keep the gas out.

“These kids are going to be traumatized because of what they’ve seen and what they hear,” said Johnny Tolliver, who lives in one of the apartments. “They hear these flashbangs all night long.”

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Walz said he is “deeply concerned” about this, but noted that using crowd-control measures like rubber bullets, flashbangs and tear gas can be non-lethal ways to “defuse really dangerous situations.”

He underscored that no tear gas was used during the most recent protests Wednesday night, which WCCO journalists on the scene confirmed.

If law enforcement stood down on Sunday and Monday night in the immediate wake of Wright’s death, Walz speculated, the police station might have burned—similar to what happened last summer in Minneapolis.

“I would ask all of you what you think would have happened Sunday night or Monday night, especially had there not been a fence there and there had been no one there,” the governor said. “It’s proving a negative, but I’ve learned from the past that building would have been burned down and my fear was that the surrounding apartments would have burned, too.”

A New England Journal of Medicine study of demonstrations protesting racial injustice after George Floyd died last summer found “a substantial number of patients with serious injuries, including many injuries to the head, neck, and face.” Researchers say the findings “reveal that under current practices, projectiles are not appropriate for crowd control.”

As protests demanding justice for Daunte Wright continue, closing arguments are set for Derek Chauvin’s murder trial on Monday and the jury will deliberate and render a verdict in the most-high profile trial in the country in recent memory.

Walz and a coalition of law enforcement entities—“Operation Safety Net”— have been preparing for weeks for this moment to avoid the riots of last summer.

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“Next week is going to be trauma-filled, it’s going to be tense, and we’re going to have justice render a verdict,” Walz said. “However that turns out there are going to be emotions, and what we need to ensure is that first amendment and constitutional rights are protected grievances and anger and trauma are given a place to be expressed and dealt with.”

Caroline Cummings