Story for The UpTake by Sheila Regan
Video by Allison Herrera
A rally to promote solidarity and a demand for police accountability at the Hennepin County Government Center plaza Saturday instead split into factions that divided and diluted a protest. The protest, called to demand justice for Terrance Franklin, the young black man shot to death by Minneapolis police in May, took a surprising twist when a smaller group broke away from the main rally and headed to North Commons Park, a city park in North Minneapolis where police and the Minneapolis Fire Department were holding a community picnic.
Led by community activist Mysnikol Miller, the breakaway group’s actions revealed divergent messages within the movement seeking “justice” for Franklin.
The aim of the Solidarity Rally and March for Terrance Franklin was to bring together various Twin Cities communities and organizations in solidarity, according to a Facebook event invitation. It came after three months of little information being released by police and city officials about what happened on May 10th, when Franklin, allegedly a suspect in a burglary, fled from police and hid in a home in Uptown, where he was shot. The police have refused to give out any evidence in the case until the completion of a grand jury, which is set to begin next month.
Speakers at the rally, which drew nearly 200 people, included community leaders working for social justice in the Twin Cities, including Nekima Levy-Pounds, an associate professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School and director of the Community Justice Project, as well as KMOJ-FM radio personally and “voice of the Minnesota Lynx,” Sy Huff and Eva Margolis.
Levy-Pounds, an outspoken critic of law enforcement and the ways the justice system is stacked against communities of color, made a connection to the upcoming 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. Dr. King, Levy-Pounds said, was controversial. “We need more of us to speak truth to power,” she said.
Levy-Pounds also criticized the media’s handling of the Franklin case. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has refused to release details to the public, and yet the Star Tribune newspaper Friday revealed purported evidence in the case from unnamed sources (including an anonymous claim that Franklin’s DNA was found on a police-issued sub-machine gun). “Terrance isn’t here to defend himself,” she said. “So we have to speak for him.”
Eva Margolis also was part of a group that questioned the police killing of a young Asian named Fong Lee who was shot by police in 2006. Margolis told the community members seeking justice for Terrance Franklin: “We stand with you in outrage and love.”
At the rally, there were divergent points of view amongst supporters. For example, V.J. Smith, from Mad Dads, who was a participant in Chief Harteau’s Citizen’s Advisory Council, which had a closed session last week, said he came in support of the protesters, but also said that Harteau was taking the right steps to lead the police department, though he also believes “people ought to get fired,” he said.
Mel Reeves, one of the organizers of the Franklin rally, said that though he and Smith have differing views about the police’s and Harteau’s efforts, they support each other.
The rally took an unexpected turn when community activist Mysnikol Miller, not a scheduled speaker for the rally, took the microphone. Miller, who said she was speaking for Franklin’s family and friends, said the speakers for the rally didn’t reflect their wishes. Rather than marching around downtown, Miller said, she was going to bring a group to an event at North Commons, where Minneapolis Police and Minneapolis Fire Department were holding a family-friendly community event. “You guys can march through empty-ass downtown,” she said, “but my ass is going to North Commons.”
Shannon Jones, a young woman who was friends with Franklin, was in tears at the rally. She said she felt upset because none of the speakers knew Franklin, and were just saying what they heard about on the news. She wished there were more of the young people that initially started demanding justice for Franklin could have spoken about what he was like as a person. “We started the whole thing,” she said.
At around 2:15, North Commons Park was crowded with families, kids, cops and fire men and women, and the smell of barbecue. The Minneapolis Police and the Minneapolis Fire department each had tents set up, along with KMOJ, and there was a stage full of musicians and an area for dancing as well.
Police Commander Medaria Arradondo, head of the police department’s Internal Affairs unit, spoke while grilling some barbecue, saying that the event was aimed at building public trust.
In mid-afternoon, about a dozen protesters arrived from the Justice for Terrance Franklin rally, carrying signs that read “Stop Lucas Peterson” (the police officer who killed Franklin) and “Justice for Terrance, Prosecute the Police,” which they held up while standing near the judges for the barbecue contest.
For about 30 minutes, the protesters stood silently with their signs, but around 3 p.m., Miller began speaking with a megaphone. “If you don’t live in North Minneapolis, if you don’t live in South Minneapolis, then why are you policing those communities,” she said to the police. “You don’t know these people. You don’t break bread with those people.”
Malcolm Samuels, Promotions Coordinator with KMOJ, said the protesters had a right to free speech, and a right to be at the event. As for KMOJ’s stance, he said, “We’re non-biased.” At the end of the day, however, the community didn’t want to live without police. “Let’s be angry at the person we know is a bad apple,” he said.
For the most part, the police ignored the protesters. There were a few small interactions, however. Michael Cavlan, one protester, said a police officer approached him and asked him not to give the middle finger, which Cavlan had done when a cop had tried to take a photo of him.
During the tasting contest, a group of volunteers from Mad Dads stood in between the judges and the protesters. Chief Harteau left after participating in the taste contest without any interaction with the group.
Eva Margolis was one of the people who went with Miller to North Commons. “I was operating under the assumption that the rallies were being done in unity with Terrance Franklin’s family friends and legal team,” she said, noting that she was speaking as an outsider not directly involved with the Justice for Terrance Franklin Committee.
Margolis said the divisions among the Terrance Franklin protesters demonstrated a need for more communication and organizing, so that the community can stand together.