4th precinct Occupation Built Community in Ways that Can’t be Bulldozed

 


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Photo on the march from the 4th precinct to City Hall in Minneapolis on November 24, 2015.

 In the early hours of December 3rd the city destroyed the occupation of the 4th precinct in Minneapolis.  But they can’t bulldoze a movement .

People  lived outside of the 4th precinct North Minneapolis police station for 18 days, breathing campfire smoke, eating whatever was offered as an unusually mild Minnesota November has turned into a wintry December.

It was an intense protest — like fasting, or marching hundreds of miles — illustrating a deep and unmoving commitment to uprooting an unjust status quo.

The injustice here is a system that sanctioned the killing of an unarmed Black man– Jamar Clark — by police. The protest demanded — and won — a federal investigation and release of the names of the police officers.  A key demand — release of the video tape of the killing — has not been met.  Other demands for deep structural changes, including an end to grand juries, removal of  Police federation President Kroll and investigation of his and other officer ties to white supremacists groups, and reclamation of the 4th precinct site to rebuild the community center that once was there,  are developing as people are continuing to imagine and plan how to move to justice. 

The subsequent criminalization of protesters by police and the mayor; the silence of police officers not involved in the shooting; the light charging of White men who shot protesters;  added dimensions to the struggle for justice.

The 4th precinct occupation itself, uncovered the depth and breadth of the criminal injustice system.

One of the strengths of the occupation was  its ability to engage people near and far with many different abilities and resources.

  • There were daily requests for food, wood, hot water, social media support.
  • Activists held diverse events at the site: a vigil, march, church service, Thanksgiving dinner, concert, daily meetings a funeral. East African and Latino communities and organized labor held support rallies on site and middle school students from nearby Anwatin public school marched to the precinct.
  • Support actions offsite allowed thousands of people to play a part, including those far from Minnesota who have  bought a meal, or sent a message of solidarity.
  • Marches connecting Minneapolis, Chicago with local struggles have taken place in New York City, Buffalo, Tampa and many other cities.
  • The National NAACP came and led a vigil.  A Hip Hop legend stopped by to lend his support.

Every one of these connections big and small  built community.  This is the  immeasurable strength of the occupation, evidenced in stories that need to be gathered.  No wonder the powers that be wanted the occupation to end.

I spent one day at the 4th precinct, the day after White terrorists shot five protesters.  I arrived at 7:30 AM.  It was quiet — a half dozen people awake, an equal number still sleeping in sleeping bag lumps.  Seagulls– an unusual sight in Minneapolis — hovered together outside the cement blockade, apparently attracted to smells of food.

Three men who witnessed the attacks the night before stood around the fire reciting reasons why they believed the shooters had to be connected in some way to the police — They noted the lag time of police response to a crime taking place in front of their noses, and to the fact that they maced the  protesters  when they did arrive –criminalizing the victims of the attack.  A young woman who’d been there all night said when they heard the shots and screams they thought their friends had been killed.  “We sat in a prayer circle for an hour.”

By 9AM people began to come.  From 9 to noon this is what I saw:

  • Black men holding down the fort, staffing food tables, feeding fires.
  • People of all races dropping off food.  Four dozen bagels and cream cheese.  Hot cereal in a huge pot.  Egg sandwiches.
  • Four people on a sleeping bag down on the sidewalk meditating.
  • Two women singing in perfect gospel harmony, and a group swarming around them.
  • A woman in her fifties cornering a man wearing a green Mad Dads shirt. “I’m trying to stay peaceful, but I’m getting angry” she said again and again.  She had come down to get help channeling her anger.
  • Two young men, Black and White, talked history. One traced the road from  slavery to the old and then new Jim Crow. The other talked about Chinese workers who died building a railroad.   “We don’t learn about that.  That’s what whiteness is — an erasure.”

By 12:30 it was a different place — full of people, cameras, national  media.    Testifiers were now using megaphones.  A statement was read to the press.  A march was scheduled to begin at 2pm.  By 1:50 there were already too many people to hold in one place so we  marched around the precinct, through alleyways.  Neighbors came out on their stoops and joined in chants.  The back of the precinct was filled with cop cars and cops.

When the march began to move down Plymouth Avenue, it swelled in size, covering one block…  then two blocks… then more than three.

We marched all the way downtown, causing the shuttering of federal and local government buildings.  Over a thousand people.  Plus three hundred who stayed at the precinct, and another several hundred students around the city who walked out of their schools in protest.

When I returned to the precinct I could barely stand up, but the concert for Jamar in front of the precinct had begun and the music, the children picking out winter hats and mittens from the gigantic box of donations, the free dinner for three thousand, the singing and dancing, were intoxicating. As the Sounds of Blackness sang their movement anthem Black Lives Matter, I leaned on my husband who had joined me, managing to stay upright for another half hour, my awe at the stamina of those living at the 4th precinct growing by the moment.

When we walked back to our car, passersby greeted us on the side-walk.  Instead of “hello” they said,

“Black Lives Matter.”

“Black Lives Matter” we replied.

 

The occupation is over. The  movement continues. The Rally at 4pm  December 3 at Minneapolis City Hall  filled to the rafters 

 

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