Black Lives Matter protesters spent 18 days occupying the area around the Fourth Police Precinct, using their presence to make demands related to the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark. That all came to a close early this morning, as police moved in and shut down the encampments that had lined the street. Dozens of protesters braving the cold were on the scene at the time.
Cops were prepared in full riot gear in case of strong resistance, and protesters stopped in the street to confront the officers, chanting angrily about what was happening.
But the scene did not play out with some of the spectacular conflict between police and civilians that was seen earlier on in the protests. Just seven people were arrested Wednesday for refusing to vacate the scene, and all were released later this morning, according to tweets from arrestees. Unicorn Riot, which has consistently documented all aspects of the occupation, has an extended video showing how the eviction went down.
Removing the protesters cleared the way for bulldozers and street-sweepers, which commenced removing camp materials immediately.
Elected officials had issued loud calls in recent days for the public protests to end, citing risks to public safety, including a repeat incident of the shooting of five protesters by alleged white supremacists. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and DFL U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison both joined the chorus asking demonstrators to move on, though Ellison had previously appeared at the site himself, and one of his sons was captured in a now-famous photo from the early standoffs with police.
The Fourth Precinct occupation was the lone issue during a sub-committee meeting of the Minneapolis City Council Tuesday night, where members took public testimony from people affected by the protests. They also heard from Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation. Kroll has become a public face for the cause of beat cops, including the two involved in Clark's death; though Kroll had not reviewed any video evidence, he has repeatedly stated the officers involved, Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg, did nothing wrong.
Speaking to the council, Kroll said he was hearing from "real citizens" in the Fourth Precinct area, who had lost faith in the city council, Hodges, and the Minneapolis Police Department leadership.
"You're on a fast track [to] becoming a national laughing stock in politics," Kroll said. "You need to pull your mayor back. You need to quit mismanaging, quit mis-micromanaging the police department, and let people who have experience on how to remove unlawful protesters in. Much less, you don't need to be there, encouraging them."
That last line was a reference to several council members' appearances at the protests. One who didn't make that trip is Barbara Johnson, president of the council, who said the enduring demonstration had been a "huge inconvenience" for parts of the city. Johnson described driving around the neighborhood in recent days, and said she was disturbed by the smoke from fires protesters were burning to keep warm. She also decried the lengthened response times for police in the neighborhood.
Blong Yang, who represents the Fourth Precinct area, says citizens have complained about protesters drinking publicly, smoking marijuana, and listening to loud music, as well as "armed vigilantes" and vandalism.
"I think we've taken a really good tack as a city, in terms of asking nicely, asking for voluntary removal," Yang said. "At some point it just has to be a little different than that."
The meeting ended without official action, though the same could not be said about Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Just as well for the protesters; Black Lives Matter announced in a Facebook post this morning that it would shift focus to a demonstration planned for 4 p.m. at Minneapolis City Hall. Organizers say they will restate a list of demands to city leaders.
Since the beginning, Black Lives Matter has insisted that authorities release surveillance videotape that they believe would show Clark was subdued, or in handcuffs, when he was fatally shot in the head. Protesters also want Clark's killing turned over to a special prosecutor, instead of a grand jury, and are asking that the city craft a "safety plan" to protect citizens from violence at the hands of police.
"We will not be intimidated or silenced," reads the message. "We have nothing to lose but our chains."