MINNEAPOLIS – Officers on Thursday cleared away a protest encampment that sprang up in front of a Minneapolis precinct following the fatal police shooting of a black man last month, arresting eight demonstrators and erecting a fence to dissuade others from trying to return.
Police ordered around 50 chanting demonstrators to disperse at about 4 a.m. and soon began removing tents and equipment while firefighters extinguished campfires. Dump trucks carried away tents and supplies while crews removed makeshift barricades that had been blocking the street in front of the station and erected a high fence to keep people off the lawn and sidewalk.
"It was time," Mayor Betsy Hodges said at a news conference. "We have been balancing the safety needs of the precinct with the right for people to protest and have their voices be heard."
Demonstrators, led by the local Black Lives Matter group, had gathered outside the 4th Precinct station since shortly after the Nov. 15 shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark. He died the following day.
Police officers responding to a report of an assault in which Clark was a suspect said they arrived to find him interfering with paramedics who were trying to treat the victim. Police say a struggle followed and Clark was shot. Some community members have alleged that Clark was handcuffed when he was shot, but police dispute this.
State and federal investigations are underway.
Protesters have demanded the release of any videos showing the shooting and called for a special prosecutor to be appointed instead of leaving it up to a grand jury to decide whether the officers should face charges.
Seven people were arrested during the eviction for obstructing the legal process and another was arrested for trespassing, Police Chief Janee Harteau said. Nobody was injured, she said.
"I do want to make notice to future protests that we will continue to support and facilitate your First Amendment rights and freedom of speech. But, we will also support and enforce the ordinances of the city of Minneapolis and the laws of the state of Minnesota," Harteau said.
Protesters won't be allowed to set up similar encampments or block streets for extended periods, the police chief said.
It wasn't immediately clear when operations would return to normal at the station. The new temporary fence blocked the sidewalk along the entire block and public access to the front door. A new fence across the street left the sidewalk open, a potential place for protesters to gather.
About 200 protesters and their supporters regrouped at 4 p.m. inside Minneapolis' City Hall, and speakers continued to press their demands for the release of videotapes and racial equity. The protesters then took to the streets, chanting and disrupting traffic in downtown Minneapolis.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP and a protest leader, said before the rally that the raid would have "a chilling effect on free speech" but vowed that the city hadn't heard the last from protesters.
Levy-Pounds, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, said the protesters have a list of demands in addition to release of the videos and justice for Clark. They plan to push for a comprehensive criminal justice task force to look at racial disparities in law enforcement. They want the police station turned back into the community center it once was. They want better police training to eliminate the use of deadly force against unarmed citizens. And they want more paramedics of color because they might have handled the situation that led to Clark's shooting differently, she said.
Asked whether more demonstrations or civil disobedience might be part of their strategy for achieving those goals, Levy-Pounds wouldn't rule them out.
"We're not going to take anything off the table. It's going to take all those things to get some semblance of justice for African-Americans and all vulnerable citizens," she said.