Calling occupation ‘historic and successful,’ protesters vow to fight on
The six-foot-plus fence and cement barriers that now encase Minneapolis’ Fourth Precinct police station seem to symbolize the current police-community relations in Minneapolis. It’s been a week since the city police broke up the encampment outside the Northside police station on Plymouth Avenue that began November 15 and ended December 2.
Nekima Levy-Pounds called the 18-day occupation by community residents and supporters “historic and successful.” She told the MSR last week, “I’m at peace and energized by the strong showing of community solidarity and support throughout the occupation.
“We were ready to vacate the site, but we were going to maintain our fight for justice. We are not going to lose the momentum we built. We are going to build upon [it] for a catalyst for change.”
Shanna Woods, a protest participant, said in an MSR phone interview last Friday, “It was great to be out there and be active” in the three-week protest. “It was a real organized, cohesive spirit…” However, last week’s police action “scared” her, she admitted.
“It made me feel like they were going to use harsh methods to get [the protesters] out,” and she was concerned that some police officers might “act out of anger” because of the ordeal. “I wholeheartedly think the protest was a success because it made people think, to make people aware, to know that the system is not working.
“I think it was working and made officials so nervous and really uncomfortable because this was taking power out of their hands,” continued Woods. “It allowed the Black community to call the shots.”
She also disagreed with news reports that nearby community residents complained about the protest, a claim made by City and police officials. “I have family members and friends that live near there” that understood the issues, noted Woods. “I don’t think [any inconvenience] breached the entire neighborhood.
“If we talk about inconvenience, what about the people who made the sacrifice to be there, to come out of their pockets to help the protest. Let’s talk about the people who were out there, doing it for the sake of equity [for all] people of color across the Twin Cities.”
Woods remembers one time while running to get supplies a store cashier offered free items: “She was concerned that I didn’t have enough [bottled] water and gloves, and went back and got some [more], and put it on [her] tab. I was able to get food, hats, gloves, scarves — it was a really cool experience.”
Woods also said that she had several “impromptu communal conversation[s]” with persons around the area during the protest. Most were positive, she recalled. “It gets emotionally weary for me to engage with people because you are afraid of criticism or pushback,” she admitted.
Since joining Black Lives Matter (BLM) Minneapolis last year, Woods said, it has been an eye-opening experience for her. “I think a lot of Black people, including myself, were guilty of not understanding systemic racism,” she explained. The tragic Jamar Clark shooting last month has provided her with more information on issues BLM is advocating.
However, it bothers her that too much “biased misinformation” is being disseminated, mainly through mainstream media. “I hate that people think Black Lives Matter is a war against the cops,” she stated. “Black Lives Matter is not asking for harm toward the police at all. That is alarming and very disconcerting.
“[The police department] is an institution that is not necessarily for protecting and serving people of color because they have bias toward them. They have impressions and assumptions about people of color.” Woods joined others in the community who want the police “to be checked…because they have done a disservice to the Black community.”
The protesters’ demands, which among others include publicly releasing any videos relating to the Clark shooting, still stand, reiterated Levy-Pounds, who as Minneapolis NAACP president said the local branch fully supported the occupation “to help community members get everything they are asking for from the powers that be.” This includes building a community center on Plymouth Avenue as well, she added.
“We want to see jobs brought to the North Side, particularly for African American men and women. We want a serious reinvestment” in the area, stressed Levy-Pounds.
Black Lives Matter advocates “equity measures” for the Black community, added Woods.
The Clark shooting and subsequent protests in recent weeks are proving, according to Woods, that “This is not an issue you can take stands on. This is about the well-being of a whole population of people of color. There needs to be reform.”
“They [the police] may have shut down the occupation, but they didn’t shut down our spirit for freedom, justice and equality,” said Levy-Pounds. “We won’t rest until we get justice for Jamar and other victims of police brutality.”
And according to a quote in a quote from Levy-Pounds in a December 8 press release, the Minneapolis NAACP will not remain silent on the barricade: “How many of our tax dollars paid for this unnecessary and hostile transformation? We demand the immediate removal of the gates and barricades around the 4th Precinct.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org