A racist attack on Black Lives Matter

November 25, 2015

Nicole Colson details the shooting of anti-police brutality protesters by suspected racists in Minneapolis--and how activists are refusing to be silenced.

"TONIGHT, WHITE supremacists attacked the ‪#‎4thPrecinctShutDown‬ in an act of domestic terrorism."

That was how Black Lives Matter Minneapolis described the shooting of five unarmed African American protesters by a group of at least three men outside of a Minneapolis police station on the evening of November 23.

Activists have been holding a running protest outside of the Minneapolis Police Department's 4th Precinct since November 15, when 24-year-old Jamar Clark was shot by police.

Clark was shot after police reportedly received a call from paramedics saying that someone was interfering in their efforts to aid an assault victim. Witnesses say that Clark, who was unarmed, was laying on the ground, handcuffed with his hands behind his back, when he was shot by police. Clark died the following day after being removed from life support.

Despite the fact that the killing was caught on multiple sources of video, including security cameras from a nearby public housing estate and by bystanders, authorities so far have refused to release any footage to the public--fueling speculation of police wrongdoing and prompting the continuous protest outside the police precinct.

Police lined up after a white supremacist attack on Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis
Police lined up after a white supremacist attack on Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis

Police had earlier cleared an encampment from around the precinct, but protesters have remained outside of the station around the clock each day to push for justice for Jamar, in addition to holding larger actions, including a sit-in on Interstate 94 that brought traffic to a halt and led to the arrest of more than 50 people.

According to reports, at least one of the men involved in the shooting on the night of November 23 was wearing a ski mask, and one or more may have worn bulletproof vests--suggesting the attack may have been pre-meditated.

Yolanda, an activist involved with the Black Lives Matter movement before Jamar Clark's death, said that she was horrified to see what had happened to him in her North Minneapolis neighborhood. She was one of those present at the 4th Precinct when the shootings took place--and she came out to march against the racist backlash the following day.

She recounted that a group of men showed up at the encampment who seemed "off." Their faces were covered and they refused to remove their masks. At that point, they were told to leave and a group of protesters led them away from the site. Yolanda said that when a smaller group had broken off to walk the men with the masks further away, the men began calling Black Lives Matter activists the "n-word." It was after the group of protesters turned to walk back toward the encampment that shots were fired.

The horror and outrage many feel over the shootings is compounded by how some say that the police responded. Yolanda explained that when she attempted to call 9-1-1, it took her three attempts before someone finally picked up. But, she said, given that there were police inside the precinct, it's hard to understand how they could not have heard the gunshots and the cries for medical help. Instead, they only came out once squad cars arrived on the scene.

"Last night was revelatory," a determined Yolanda stated. "I feel like I'm going to start sleeping here every night now."

"It was all scary," Carrie Brown, a cousin of shooting victim Wesley Martin, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "You wouldn't expect anything like that. We didn't have a security detail. Everybody here was peaceful."

Thankfully, the five shooting victims are all expected to recover.

"He's itching to get back out here," Brown said, referring to her cousin. "He's really more mad that the injury is keeping him from coming back out to protest."

"We all were terrorized last night," Brown added. "I've never seen racism like that."

IN THE hours immediately after the shooting, a crowd of protesters turned out to the 4th Precinct in an outpouring of anger and solidarity against the attack. Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and other activists called for a mass march and rally the next day from the 4th Precinct to City Hall, the Hennepin County Courthouse and the federal courthouse to send a message that we won't be intimidated into silence.

Some 1,000 people turned out for the march, including high school students who walked out of school. The mood was one of perseverance and certainty, with protesters carrying banners and signs reading "Justice for Jamar," "Black Lives Matter," "We have nothing to lose but our chains," and "This could be your city next." Their chants included "Handcuffed? Don't shoot," "No justice, no peace. Prosecute the police" and "Send those killer cops to jail."

A young Iraqi-American addressed the crowd about the need for solidarity, saying that the struggle reaches from Minneapolis to Gaza. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr., saying, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

One protester named Izy had been involved in the movement since the initial protests following Jamar's killing. She was arrested along with 50 others the night of the I-94 shutdown. She said that for her, even worse than right-wing politics, are those who claim to be neutral, saying that they "can see both sides." Neutrality, she stated, is a luxury that not all are afforded.

"I'm out here to make sure those cowards know that they didn't scare anybody," Demetrius Pendleton, who runs a local homeless shelter, explained to the Washington Post. "We want to see justice, and we won't stop until we get it."

Pastor Danny Givens Jr., the clergy liaison for Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, told the crowd through a bullhorn that protesters would not allow racist vigilantes to scare them away. "We ain't going nowhere," he said. "This is our precinct. We ain't scared of domestic terrorists."

"WHAT HAPPENED last night was a planned hate crime and an act of terrorism against activists who have been occupying the 4th Precinct," Black Lives Matter Minneapolis activist Miski Noor told KARE news.

As this article was being written, two suspects had been taken into custody, but one was reportedly later released. Two more had reportedly turned themselves into police.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau lauded police on Twitter, saying that the officers are "true professionals" and noting that "MPD worked nonstop through the night to bring justice in last night's shooting."

But according to protesters, November 23 wasn't the first time that racists had turned up at a Minneapolis BLM protest intent on disruption. Noor told the Star Tribune that white supremacists had showed up on November 23 "as they have done most nights." Activists say that police did nothing about the threat they posed.

According to a report in the Twin Cities' City Pages, on the evening of November 19:

two guys wearing camo with their faces covered arrived at the precinct to film. They went up to a livestreamer with [alternative media outlet] Unicorn Riot and stated they were curious about how the protest was going.

"I don't know if this is what [Black Lives Matter protesters] were planning, just standing here," one of the white supremacists said. "It's almost as if they expect one of us to do something. They expect one of us to be in the wreckage of all this. It's boiling. It's going to be happening soon."

Asked about what "justice for Jamar Clark" meant to them, one of the men sneered, laughing, "All the folks here should get the justice and peace that they deserve. What we need to do is reach out to our communities, especially our melanin-enriched communities."

According to City Pages:

Later, Black Lives Matter discovered a video that the two men filmed en route to the 4th Precinct from Uptown. It shows one brandishing a gun. "We're gonna go see what these fucking dindus are up to," he said [referencing a racial slur for Blacks]. "We're going to knock this shit out...a little reverse-cultural enriching. Let the fire rise."

While it's not clear yet if these men were involved in the November 23 shooting, what is clear is that organized racists were intent on disrupting the Jamar Clark protests with violence--and police did nothing even after they harassed demonstrators. For their part, protest organizers put together a safety committee to watch for racist agitators and escort them away.

"We reiterate that we have zero faith in the police department's desire to keep our community safe," Noor understandably told KARE.

On CNN, Raeisha Williams, communications chair of the Minneapolis NAACP, stated that police were "lurking" near the scene and had refused to provide help to injured protesters. Williams suggested that at least some of those involved in the shooting may actually be police:

We believe the police department is facilitating the injustice, bullying the protesters. And we also believe that they're involved in this shooting. We know from blackboards and chat rooms and also videos that we have posted on our website that police that are from different counties, police from different districts have come down to entice the protesters, have come down to bully the protesters...

We believe--and we stand behind our belief--that the Minneapolis Police Department is not protecting us, and therefore they stand with racist white supremacists who want to destroy a peaceful movement.

Williams stated that one of the officers who arrived at the scene of the shootings said, "This is what you've been wanting," and that it took at least 15 minutes for police to arrive after the shooting--though police claim they were on the scene within three minutes. Williams also stated that police began to Mace some of the Black Lives Matter protesters when they arrived--a claim corroborated by Yolanda, who stated that she had met a young man who was part of the group that had escorted the gunmen away. As he applied pressure to the wound of a fellow activist who had been shot in the stomach, he told Yolanda, police arrived and ordered him to move away. They proceeded to Mace him in the face when he did not comply fast enough.

Additionally, some activists reported that an armed racist showed up at the encampment on the day after the shooting. They claimed that when police were called, his gun was confiscated, but that he was let go.

THE MINNEAPOLIS shootings are part of a backlash designed to quiet the movement against racism and police brutality.

Incredibly, some in Minneapolis have suggested that the anti-racist protests themselves are to blame for the shooting. City Council President Barb Johnson, for example, seemed more concerned about those living around the 4th Precinct than about Jamar Clark or the anti-racist protesters who were shot. She lamented to the Star Tribune that the shootings were a "continuation of a stressful time for the neighbors that live in the area surrounding the 4th Precinct"--adding without irony that the residents "deserve some peace and some rest."

Johnson went on to blame "outside agitators"--a favorite scapegoat, and one targeted from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore when it comes to trying to clamp down on protests against police brutality. "That's part of the problem with these protests: the longer they go on, the more participation there is from across the country," Johnson told the Star Tribune. "The longer it goes on, the worse it gets."

In the days preceding the November 23 shootings, Jamar Clark's family and Black Lives Matter supporters had reportedly discussed bringing the running protest outside the station to an end and exploring other avenues in the fight to win justice for Jamar. Following the shooting, out of concerns for safety, Clark's family called for an end to the occupation of the 4th Precinct.

But in the wake of the shootings, activists announced that they are recommitting to the ongoing protest outside of the 4th Precinct until they win justice for Jamar and justice for the victims in this latest attack. The shootings have sparked new anger and a determination to stand united in the fight against racism and police brutality, and undeterred by fear and a racist backlash. Among other things, protesters are demanding direct prosecution of the officers involved in Jamar's shooting (as opposed to the prosecutor presenting a case to a grand jury for indictment--unlikely in cases involving police shootings), and for the 4th Precinct to be turned into a community center.

As Mychal Denzel Smith wrote in The Nation:

Cracks are showing, but they can't come without backlash. Any change in the system, no matter how minor, threatens to undo the foundation, and therefore the identity, of the country. The status quo produces its own defenders. And, as it appears now, those defenders opened fire in Minneapolis...

Fighting for your life and rights is a dangerous occupation.

And the fight won't stop. It's frightening to think that a consequence of speaking out against injustice may be a bullet, but the cost of not speaking out is the continued slaughter. What the shooters wanted was for the protesters to cower in fear. What they are likely to find is that this only strengthens their resolve.

As Miski Noor told the crowd at the November 24 march, "We will not bow to fear or intimidation."

Ryan Green and Chance Lunning contributed to this article.

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