MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A protester killed in Uptown three night ago would have turned 32 years old Wednesday.
Deona Knajdek died after a man drove into a crowd of protesters on Sunday. Protesters gathered Wednesday where she was killed to celebrate her, and also to send a message.
“We’re not going nowhere. It don’t matter. You made a martyr of her just like [2017 Charlottesville car attack victim] Heather Heyer and many other people,” a protester named Nero said. “But we’re gonna fight for her to get true justice.”
Investigators say Nicholas Kraus admitted to accelerating his SUV toward Knajdek and a crowd of protesters. He’s charged with second-degree murder.
“It’s not enough. We need first-degree [murder],” Nero said.
Since then, demonstrators and police have gone back and forth controlling streets and an intersection near where a federal task force killed Winston Boogie Smith Jr. earlier this month.
One-hundred Minnesota National Guard soldiers are now standing by to help law enforcement if needed.
A protester named Lali says they’ve been barricading the intersection of Lake Street and Girard Avenue to memorialize Knajdek and Smith.
“If we’re in the street playing ‘Red Light, Green Light’ or whatever we’re doing, that doesn’t mean we deserve to be dehumanized and murdered,” Lali said.
Tuesday night, police detained and cited protesters, with several reports saying they weren’t given dispersal orders first.
“Nobody here feels like the police keep them safe,” Lali said.
Mayor Jacob Frey had said dispersal orders would come. The city says one arrest was made Tuesday for unlawful assembly, which would require a dispersal order.
WCCO asked about the discrepancy, and a spokesperson said Mayor Frey talked to MPD before, during and after the activity, and that “The mayor will review documentation of what happened last night and consult with the City Attorney’s Office and police department leadership prior to commenting further on the matter.”
“We are y’all neighbors, we are, you know what I’m saying, brothers, sisters and so on,” Nero said. “We’re cleaning up and we’re taking care of each other.”
After law enforcement left the area again Wednesday evening, protesters again began to reconstruct make-shift barricades to close down the intersection.
— David Schuman (@david_schuman) June 17, 2021
Newly-filed search warrants say investigators found a gun in Smith’s SUV. The documents say they also recovered a half-dozen bullet casings from inside his car.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Smith fired his gun during the deadly encounter. A woman riding with Smith said she never saw a gun.
Uptown begins cleaning up, even as protests continue
Several nearby businesses reopened Wednesday, with workers scrubbing the sidewalks and painting over graffiti-covered walls.
“I get the protesting but I just don’t get the looting and the destruction of property,” Marvin Applewhite of Blueline Cleaning said. “I don’t think that’s peaceful protesting.”
Applewhite is leading a team of volunteers working to restore the look of a damaged neighborhood.
“It makes the neighborhood look unwelcoming with all the graffiti everywhere and stuff like that,” he said. “That’s just my opinion.”
After weeks of protests, officers reopened the area Tuesday. Protesters resisted, but eventually traffic resumed.
“Bring more of the community out to fight back, they push, we push,” Applewhite said.
About a dozen protesters are holding vigil around the clock, telling WCCO they are staying put. It’s making some neighbors uneasy.
“It’s very angering, it makes me sad,” Nancy Carlson said. “And then, at night when we go to bed, we don’t know if it’s gonna blow up. So there’s a lot of fear and anxiety throughout all this.”
Carlson has lived in this neighborhood for 30 years.
“I have a lot of support for the values and the movement, but the tactics are wrong,” she said. “The target of their passion and commitment and wrath — this neighborhood — is misdirected.”
Some sense of familiarity returned during the day Wednesday, as several businesses reopened feet away from where the grieving continues.
“My hope in this movement is they probably could peacefully protest without being destructive of property and without stopping the visitors from coming to spend their money,” Applewhite said.