A biting wind cut through the crowd as dozens of protesters huddled around campfires, sang songs, and noshed doughnuts outside Minneapolis police’s Fourth Precinct. Organizers kept occupants of the mini shanty town outside the cop shop warm and fed, doling out gloves, hand warmers, and hot drinks. Despite feeling like the first day of winter, spirits were high. As those present for the previous night’s mace-spraying clashes described it, the mood was decidedly less tense.
The ongoing demonstration, organized by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, has pulled together people of all colors and creeds to protest the killing of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police. Some of them are parents, others students. Their complexions and life experiences vary, yet most seemed to enjoy the hot pizza going around.
Their cause is the same, but their reasons for being there are not. These are the Fourth Precinct occupiers.
Bundled in a red jacket, Sally Lieberman has been hanging around for about an hour. Since the protests began Sunday night, the retired 59-year-old has come by for a little while each day to show her support. “I’m an old lady with arthritis, so I don’t stay out in the cold too long. But this is really important to me,” she says, peeking above her tightly wrapped scarf.
Sure, she’s here for Jamar Clark and Minneapolis’ pervasive racial inequity, as described by the cardboard sign on her cart. But she’s also here for the nameless man she spotted outside her house one summer night.
Six or seven years ago the Minneapolis woman awoke in the middle of the night to flashing lights and sirens outside her house. Her neighbor was ill, so she guessed it was an ambulance. Instead, an officer had pulled over a man on her block. She watched as a white officer cuffed and searched the man before leading him to his squad car. The cop was using “obscene language” and racial slurs toward the man, who was black.
As they walked, the cop said something that “pissed the young man off,” who then tried to pull away and kick the officer. Dumb move, but she says the man was provoked. The cop slammed him on the street and repeatedly kicked him until he “pleaded for his life.”
“I couldn’t hear the entire sentence that the cop said, but it ended with ‘and they’ll find you dead in a dark alley and no one will ever know what happened to you,’” Lieberman recalls. “Then he said, ‘Is that what you want to have happen to you?’”
“The next morning I got up thinking I’m going to do something about it, but I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I didn’t know how to find out who the young man who was brutalized was. Since then I’m not going to pass up any opportunity to be out here and speak out.”
Nathanael Doehling made his first Fourth Precinct appearance Thursday. The Savage man would have been there sooner, but it was his first day off in a while. The 29-year-old, who cooks at Muddy Waters and works with families impacted by the justice system, says Clark’s shooting “hit close to home.”
Doehling says he’s had his share of run-ins with the law and has experienced police brutality. The former Minneapolis resident recalls a stop-and-frisk situation which, as he tells it, turned into more of a rough-up-and-release years ago on the North Side. After having his face pressed to the ground and his bum shoulder dislocated, Doehling claims he was let go without being told why he was pulled over to begin with.
“People go through this every day,” he says. “It’s not always violence, sometimes it’s a mental thing. I’ve been told, ‘Do you know what I could do to you? I’ll kill you nigger.’”
Zack Pierson (who declined to be photographed) had a couple hours to kill before an English teachers convention. A grad student at the University of Minnesota, some of his peers camped outside the Fourth Precinct the night before, so he swung by to show his support.
The rural Ohio native says he’s “tired of seeing police violence,” which disproportionately hits minority and low-income communities.
“It’s frustrating,” Pierson says. “Being a white person and coming from the Midwest, I have plenty of friends who still proclaim they’re not racist, but they still say awful, nasty racist things all the time.”
As Pierson was getting ready to leave, Michael McDowell was fueling up for the night ahead. As a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, the 21-year-old was in the thick of the Wednesday night clash between police and protesters, talking to the cops while trying to keep the crowd in check.
“You can chant, do your thing, but let’s make sure we’re keeping this about Jamar,” McDowell says. “Because if violence is incited, then it’s not about Jamar anymore.”
For his day job, the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts graduate helps organize low-wage workers. But it’s his extracurricular Black Lives Matter activities that make headlines. He helped launch the Minneapolis chapter after being shaken by Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Missouri.
“It was just seeing myself on the ground,” McDowell says. “I’m 21. Michael Brown was 18, so I’m not far from his age. I have siblings that are his age. So, it just being very personal, it easily could have been me.”