This week the Twin Cities saw a disturbing escalation in tactics used by law enforcement against protesters. It has been common practice for protesters who were arrested (often on charges that later failed to hold up in court) to be processed and quickly released, but we are now seeing specific activists explicitly targeted by police and detained for discretionary 36-hour holds. This is a troubling trend in the way law enforcement interacts with people exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and public protest.
An example of when a 36 hour hold is commonly and properly utilized is felony level domestic violence crimes. The city of Minneapolis provides this information for victims of domestic abuse:
If the offender was arrested for a felony level crime, the person will be booked into the Hennepin County jail. A probable cause hold will be placed on this person. This hold is usually for about 36 to 48 hours depending on the day and time the person was arrested. An investigator from the Domestic Assault Unit will try to contact you. […] The attorney will decide if the evidence merits charging the offender with a crime. The attorney will also look at the past history of the offender. All of this will occur in the 36 hour probable cause hold time. If charged, the offender will see a judge and bail will be set. If the offender was arrested for a misdemeanor crime, the person will be booked into the Hennepin County jail. Usually the next day, the offender will go in front of a judge and the city attorney will request either release or bail.
So we see that some protesters are being treated with the same level of severity that is also applied in felony domestic violence cases, and are being held longer than domestic abusers arrested on misdemeanor charges.
September 6th marked two months since Philando Castile was shot and killed at a traffic stop by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Protesters marked the tragic anniversary by calling on Ramsey County Attorney John Choi to prosecute Yanez. St. Paul police responded in riot gear, bizarrely threatened to arrest everyone standing on the sidewalk, and called out, targeted, and then arrested Eli Lartey. Lartey, who is a member of the group “Justice Occupation for Philando,” was the first protester arrested on July 26 when police shut down the occupation and demonstration in front of the Governor’s mansion, and at that earlier event police ripped him out from a crowd of protesters linking arms by a memorial to Castile. Evidence that Lartey was specifically targeted at the September 6 protest is provided in the livestream by independent media Unicorn Riot. Lartey was placed on a 36 hour hold on probable cause of felony terroristic threats allegedly against drivers (though protesters have more to fear from cars than vice versa), but then only charged with misdemeanors. His targeted arrest and the inflated and apparently false claims (per the amended charges) made against him seem to be designed to intimidate protesters. Eli shared his view with us: “On September 6th, I was racially and politically profiled by the St. Paul police department. While dispersing from them in front of city hall, I was called out by name and detained on accusations of ‘terrorist threats.’ I was held on FALSE charges for over a day. This was a clear attempt by armed officers to take away organization and cause fear and chaos in the nonviolent crowd.”
The charge of “terroristic threats” is a serious one and should not be imposed lightly, or with a goal of intimidating or silencing protesters. But sometimes what appear to be actual terroristic threats are not even charged – for example, when made by an officer against protesters. Former SPPD Sgt. Jeffrey Rothecker, who was also the 2nd Vice President of the Minnesota Order of Fraternal Police, wrote on facebook that drivers encountering a planned Black Lives Matter protest should “Run them over. Keep traffic flowing and don’t slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street. Here is the deal, you continue to drive and if you hit someone make sure you call 911 to report the accident and meet the cops a block or two away and you can justify stopping further away because you feared for your safety since in the past people in this group has shown a propensity towards violence.” Rothecker provided detailed advice and encouragement for drivers to commit a dangerous and criminal vehicular assault against non-violent protesters, and directly threatened the safety of demonstrators. While he was forced to apologize and chose to resign, the St. Paul city attorney declined to charge him, and in fact St. Paul paid Rothecker $7,500 in exchange for his agreement to waive any claims.
On September 7th, activists from the Minneapolis NAACP and the Black Coalition attended a Park Board meeting to express their concern about longstanding disparities in the hiring, promotion, and treatment of workers of color and the inequitable allocation of public resources, as they have done for months now. At this meeting they were specifically opposed to a proposed agreement with the Loppet Foundation to take over management of the North Minneapolis Theodore Wirth Park. Park Board President Anita Tabb demanded protesters stop talking and found them in violation of meeting rules that had not yet been passed or adopted, and police arrested four women including a teenager, an elder Rosemary Nevils, and Raeisha Williams (communications director with the Minneapolis NAACP). The new approach by the Minneapolis Park Board seems designed to silence black community members who are advocating for necessary improvements.
Finally, on Saturday September 10th, Somali youth were protesting a planned new HBO series “Minneapolis to Mogadishu” that will perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmatize their community. One of the founders of the Black Liberation Project was thrown off a stage and injured, then arrested trying to protect a youth who had been maced by Minneapolis police. The BLP member is on a 36 hour hold that will keep her in jail until Tuesday, including through the important Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha which is celebrated today, Monday September 12. The law enforcement and judicial branches have a special responsibility to protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, but here they are specifically targeting Somali youth and unnecessarily and punitively holding a practicing Muslim over a major holy day. Anti-Muslim bigotry flared in the United State after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and is now again on the rise with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calling for a ban on the immigration of Muslims. Only a couple months ago, Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota was the site of a hate crime: a group of Somali men were harassed with anti-Muslim comments and then two of them were shot.
It is here instructive to compare how the system handles serious crimes committed by police. Since 2000, over 150 Minnesotans have been killed by police, and not a single officer has been even indicted and charged with a crime for those deaths. Rather than being arrested and held in jail, police who shoot someone are given paid administrative leave and then their actions are rubber stamped as justified – even in cases where the city later pays out a large civil settlement. There have been a few officers convicted of violent crimes when the evidence of guilt was overwhelming. In 2012, Sgt. David Clifford, an executive officer with the Minneapolis SWAT team, was off duty at a bar when he went to confront another patron; as the man stood up, Clifford punched him in the face, and the victim fell backwards and required multiple brain surgeries. Clifford was also arrested on a Saturday and released on bail on a Tuesday, initially charged only with third degree assult – even while his victim remained in the hospital in critical condition. The wife of the victim “wondered why Clifford was released, why he wasn’t charged with a harsher crime and why he allegedly ran after punching her husband.” When Clifford went to trial on upgraded first degree assault charges, he and his attorney Fred Bruno (who also recently represented Dustin Schwarze, the MPD shooter of Jamar Clark) argued that Clifford had acted in self defense. Security camera video footage shows this claim to be false, as established by the jury that convicted Clifford; the judge imposed a sentence of half the prison time recommended under state guidelines. Why is a woman protesting an Islamophobic TV series being held for the same Saturday-to-Tuesday interval as a cop who violently assaulted a bar patron? Why are protesters being initially overcharged (as can be seen from their cases being settled on lesser charges or dismissed) even while that violent cop was initially undercharged?
BLP has shared that people wishing to help can donate to the bail fund and legal team through PayPal at email@example.com and can also call and ask that any and all protestors arrested at West Bank during this action be released. The number to the Hennepin County Attorney’s office is (612) 348-5550 and the one to the jail is (612) 348-5112. Update 9pm: the remaining person held from the West Bank action has been released. Donations still welcome for legal expenses.
We are seeing a trend emerging to protect the status quo; police continue to use excessive force but also apply excessive holds. Law enforcement tactics are seeking to deter protesters but it won’t work. We will be heard and we will get justice.