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 

 

#Jamar Clark, David Carr and two Minneapolis nights.

 

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A storied past. If we live long enough, we all have one, full of ups and downs.  As the story of Jamar Clark’s life and death emerges, as the best forces in my city fill the streets to demand justice for a man murdered by police, as sources gather to piece together what happened on one Minneapolis street on one Minneapolis night, I keep thinking about another Minneapolis story.

I keep thinking about David Carr, a man, who unlike Jamar Clark, lived long enough to tell his story.

Carr told  of one Minneapolis night when he wanted a drug fix so bad he left his two infant children alone in a car in the winter while he went into an apartment and got himself high. Carr went on – just months later — to become a parent advice columnist(!) and then later celebrated journalist and writer, whose death from sudden illness was mourned by millions.

We all deserve second chances, chances to tell our side of the story; for people to know the complexities of our realities; to heal.   David Carr had that chance.  I am so glad he did. I was one of the readers of his advice column who took strength from his stories as a new parent.  Carr had a louder megaphone than most of us can ever dream of having. Jamar Clark was killed and then his killers were given the megaphone to tell his story!  

In the tales of these two men, on two Minneapolis nights, is the story of a city divided by race and class, without equal justice.  Only in the streets,  united, our numbers multiplying the amplification, do we have the possibility of telling a true tale of a Minneapolis night of tragedy; of changing Minneapolis’ storied past of deep structural injustices; of building the One Minneapolis we seek.  As new details of Jamar Clark’s story emerge, it is up to his survivors — ALL OF US —  to create a healing end.

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Minneapolis and the World Need Less Policing, more Humanity

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On Sunday November 15, at 1AM  in Minneapolis police shot and killed a young Black man, Jamar Clark.. A protest began at 3pm on November 15 at the site of the shooting. Protesters demanded a release of the surveillance video, federal investigation, and arrest of the officers involved.   An occupation of the 4th precinct  continues as I write.  On the evening of November 16 protestors shut down of  I94  freeway for a couple hours, ending with the arrest of  40 activists including Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds.  Mayor Hodges requested a federal investigation this afternoon. The video has yet to be released. Witnesses say the man was handcuffed. Police say otherwise. Protesters fear tampering with the video. The occupation of the 4th precinct will continue until the demands are met. Tents have been set up outside the precinct, and a makeshift kitchen. Food and money donations are desired. 

#Occupy4thprecinct #Justice4Jamar

The last few days I have laid on my couch overcoming the flu. In my fevered state the stories of suicide bombers in Paris, Beirut and Iraq, and the death of the young man Jamar Clark, killed by a  Minneapolis police officer, overlapped. Among the clammer, a speech in my Facebook feed by Angela Davis celebrating  historian John Hope Franklin provided startling clarity among the din.

“We need more historically-minded people,” Davis said.

She did not mean people with their heads in the past, but those who see their present lives connected to past unfinished business  and a future bearing the fruits of their time on earth. They are not afraid to demand what can’t be achieved in their life time. Cognizant of historical roots of current problems, they  envision the future we need and a path to get there.

Davis illustrated what she meant, repeating the goals of her life work:  abolition of the prison system and law enforcement as we know it. “Take the guns from the police” she said. She does not believe her demands will happen in her life time, yet she paints for us a future in which security is based on the fulfillment of our needs for health, education, housing…

Events of the last days illustrate the wisdom of Davis’ vision. Law enforcement on November 15 did not provide security for a woman, a man or a neighborhood in North Minneapolis.

Police can’t address unmet human needs for decent jobs, affordable housing and well-funded schools  that would provide real security, but our tax dollars redirected can.

On a global level, Davis’ definition of security is as salient. As Mayors and Governors in the U.S. and World Leaders rush to build armies and police forces to “provide security” and  invoke America’s ugliest past by barring  Syrian refugees they deny the obvious.  Violence begets  violence.  We do not need to look very far back –– 9/11, Iraqi war! —  to understand that it will only make our future less secure.

#Occupy4thprecinct

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