Armed civilians try to keep the peace in Brooklyn Center

Demonstrators hold their hands up toward authorities stationed behind a perimeter security fence, during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright by a police officer during a traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Saturday,
Demonstrators hold their hands up toward authorities stationed behind a perimeter security fence, during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright by a police officer during a traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Saturday,

Group formed after George Floyd riots in 2020.

Posted: Apr 18, 2021 10:07 AM

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — As protests intensified in the Minneapolis suburb where a police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright, a group of Black men joined the crowd intent on keeping the peace and preventing protests from escalating into violence.

Hundreds of people have gathered outside the heavily guarded Brooklyn Center police station every night since Sunday, when former Officer Kim Potter, who is white, shot the 20-year-old Black motorist during a traffic stop. Despite the mayor's calls for law enforcement and protesters to scale back their tactics, the nights have often ended in objects hurled, tear gas and arrests.

The Black men at the edge of the crowd wear yellow patches on protective vests that identify them as members of the Minnesota Freedom Fighters, a group formed to provide security in Minneapolis' north side neighborhoods during unrest following the death of George Floyd last year. They are not shy about casting a forceful image — the group's Facebook page features members posing with assault-style weapons and describes itself as an “elite security unit” — but on Friday the Freedom Fighters didn't appear to be armed and said they intended only to encourage peaceful protesting.

As several people began to rattle a fence protecting the Brooklyn Center police department, the Freedom Fighters communicated to each other over walkie-talkies. They declined to say how many are in their group.

On recent nights, the Freedom Fighters have moved through the crowd in formation, wearing body armor and dark clothing, weaving past umbrella-wielding demonstrators to create separation along a double-layer perimeter security fence. Their passive tactics are intended to deescalate the tension, preventing agitators from pressing forward and provoking the law enforcement officers standing at attention with pepper-ball and less-lethal sponge grenade launchers at the ready.

“We can keep it peaceful,” said Tyrone Hartwell, a 36-year-old former U.S. Marine who belongs to the group. “There's always somebody in the group that wants to incite something,” adding that throwing objects at the police takes the focus away from their calls for justice and saps energy from the movement.

Minneapolis is on edge — simultaneously watching the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd's death and reeling from the shooting of Wright. In the midst of that, Hartwell said the Freedom Fighters are trying to push the movement for racial justice forward, while keeping at bay the violence and destruction that often acutely affects minority communities.

“This is a very difficult time in the history of this country,” said U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California who joined the protest on Saturday. “We have to let people know that we are not going to be satisfied unless we get justice in these cases.”

The 82-year-old congresswoman decried the 11 p.m. curfew set by authorities as a way to tamp down demonstrations and encouraged the crowd of roughly 150 people to “stay in the street.”

But local residents have also suffered from the nightly clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators, Hartwell said. He pointed to the apartments across the street from the Brooklyn Center police department, where residents have complained of tear gas streaming into their homes.

The Freedom Fighters formed after the NAACP put out a call for armed men to organize and protect their neighborhoods from looting and arson following Floyd's death. Hartwell said groups of white people had come into predominantly Black communities and harassed children.

They have also formed relationships with the city government and police department. City spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said there are several “formal and informal relationships” with members of the Freedom Fighters, but it does not fund or contract with the organization because it is an armed group.

However, some demonstrators said those ties mean the Freedom Fighters act at the behest of the police and are not aggressive enough in calling them to account.

The Freedom Fighters have clashed this week with umbrella-carrying demonstrators intent on provoking law enforcement officers. On Saturday, members of the group removed a group of demonstrators who had tried to cut the chains connecting the fencing outside the police department.

For much of the night, the street outside the police department was more subdued than in previous nights — protesters chanted and spat insults towards police, but at times also danced to music.

Law enforcement also refrained from firing the flash-bang canisters and sponge grenades they had employed on previous nights. And as curfew passed, law enforcement officers did not advance on the crowd; instead, it mostly dissipated on its own.

Another group of protesters tried a different tack by traveling to Stillwater, Minnesota, to protest at the home of Washington County Attorney Pete Orput to push him to bring more severe charges against Potter. A crowd of roughly 100 people marched through the streets of his neighborhood.

One of the organizers of the protest, lawyer and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong, said Orput came out of his home at one point to explain why his office charged Potter with second-degree manslaughter, instead of more severe murder charges.

She credited him with engaging with the protesters, something she said never happened with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman after Floyd died. The Minnesota Attorney General eventually took over prosecution, and Freeman sold his home after frequent protests.

But Levy Armstrong indicated they would not let up the pressure on Orput, saying, “We are committed to continuing to have conversations with him until we see some murder charges.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 592750

Reported Deaths: 7376
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1226641731
Ramsey51369875
Dakota45906452
Anoka41713438
Washington26899283
Stearns22238222
St. Louis17758304
Scott17275124
Wright16034140
Olmsted1324298
Sherburne1170887
Carver1049145
Clay815792
Rice8056107
Blue Earth750441
Crow Wing665089
Kandiyohi655783
Chisago599751
Otter Tail574978
Benton570297
Goodhue478072
Douglas467875
Mower465732
Winona454550
Itasca437556
McLeod423659
Isanti421364
Morrison419260
Nobles407748
Beltrami395559
Steele388315
Polk384168
Becker380253
Lyon360651
Carlton345254
Freeborn341729
Pine328622
Nicollet326143
Brown305440
Mille Lacs304553
Le Sueur291723
Todd282132
Cass272828
Meeker256340
Waseca236222
Martin230632
Roseau209019
Wabasha20533
Hubbard189341
Dodge18493
Renville180243
Redwood174337
Houston171816
Cottonwood164923
Fillmore156310
Wadena155922
Pennington153619
Faribault152319
Chippewa152238
Kanabec144626
Sibley143510
Aitkin134936
Watonwan13279
Rock128219
Jackson121812
Pipestone115426
Yellow Medicine114120
Pope11026
Murray10639
Swift105218
Stevens91311
Marshall88117
Clearwater86816
Koochiching83315
Wilkin81512
Lake81119
Lac qui Parle75322
Big Stone6004
Lincoln5813
Grant5768
Mahnomen5499
Norman5399
Unassigned50093
Kittson48622
Red Lake3967
Traverse3705
Lake of the Woods3253
Cook1640

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 367061

Reported Deaths: 5938
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57642625
Linn20869335
Scott20044241
Black Hawk15813308
Woodbury15132228
Johnson1448383
Dubuque13374208
Dallas1118298
Pottawattamie11122168
Story1061748
Warren577988
Clinton555693
Cerro Gordo540389
Sioux514474
Webster512293
Marshall483075
Muscatine481199
Des Moines457166
Wapello4301122
Buena Vista424840
Jasper419272
Plymouth401280
Lee375855
Marion362575
Jones298957
Henry291837
Carroll285952
Bremer284560
Crawford266140
Boone264834
Benton256655
Washington253750
Dickinson248443
Mahaska230351
Jackson222142
Clay215625
Kossuth215364
Tama209771
Delaware209641
Winneshiek196934
Page192722
Buchanan191332
Cedar190023
Hardin185643
Fayette185141
Wright184637
Hamilton179949
Harrison179673
Clayton169556
Butler164934
Madison162319
Mills162222
Floyd160942
Cherokee158938
Lyon158041
Poweshiek154734
Allamakee151451
Iowa148824
Hancock148234
Winnebago142431
Calhoun138513
Cass138554
Grundy136333
Emmet134340
Jefferson132435
Shelby131037
Sac130319
Union128333
Louisa128149
Appanoose127949
Mitchell126342
Chickasaw124116
Guthrie121530
Franklin120521
Humboldt119126
Palo Alto112823
Howard104622
Montgomery103338
Clarke100124
Unassigned9740
Keokuk95931
Monroe95129
Ida90335
Adair86532
Pocahontas85522
Davis83024
Monona82730
Osceola78716
Greene77710
Lucas77223
Worth7478
Taylor66012
Fremont6229
Decatur6089
Ringgold55824
Van Buren55818
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Adams3384
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