Police crack down on protesters

Josh Linehan

Police and protesters clashed near the intersection of Lake Street and Park Avenue on Saturday as Twin Cities residents continued to demonstrate on behalf of death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
About 300 demonstrators gathered Saturday afternoon at Peavey Park on Chicago and Franklin avenues in south Minneapolis. Until the march began, the gathering was similar to Thursday’s protest on the University’s West Bank.
Police made their presence known from the beginning of the rally, parking six cruisers across the street from the park. Three mounted Minneapolis park police officers also looked on.
“We’re glad people are exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Minneapolis Police Lt. Mike Fossum before the march began. “As long as it stays peaceful, we’ll let them go ahead.”
Activists began marching on the sidewalk as they left the park heading south on Chicago Avenue. A block later, they moved onto the streets.
Police followed, edging cruisers beside the demonstrators. The mounted park police rode among the demonstrators, attempting to force them onto the sidewalk.
Chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets, free Mumia now,” and “We don’t get no justice; they don’t get no peace,” protesters were repeatedly driven to the sidewalk, only to walk ahead and reclaim the street.
As the march turned west onto Lake Street, demonstrators retook control of the streets, blocking westbound traffic. Police, blocked by eastbound traffic, could not force the protesters off the road.
The demonstrators’ triumph was short-lived, however. As the march turned north onto Park Avenue, police made their move.
As demonstrators filled the one-way street, a police sport utility vehicle jumped a curb behind them and sped ahead on the sidewalk, narrowly avoiding two pedestrians. The vehicle pulled ahead of the march and, stopping at an angle, blocked the street. Two officers emerged and arrested two protesters, J Burger and Donald Kingsbury. Both wore red armbands, indicating their status as march security marshals, who helped protect and organize other protesters.
Kingsbury, a University sophomore studying English and political science, was taken into custody and booked at the Hennepin County Jail for obstruction of justice.
“I was directing people onto the sidewalk when a horse pressed up against me,” Kingsbury said. Officers insisted he move to the sidewalk. Kingsbury said he tried to explain he was attempting to safely move protesters to the sidewalk.
“The next thing, two officers grabbed me by each arm. As they dragged me away, my feet got tangled up in my bicycle, and they slammed me into a van,” Kingsbury said.
Kingsbury faces arraignment Thursday morning.
Burger, of Minneapolis, was cited for using a roadway when the sidewalk was available. He was then released.
Although Burger said the arrest was really for protesting, he said he would pay his fine.
“It beats spending the weekend in jail,” he said.
Following the arrests, mounted police rode up and again attempted to force protesters off the road. Demonstrators scrambled for the safety of the sidewalks as police vehicles flooded the scene.
When order was restored, the march continued on the sidewalk countered by an immense police presence. Twenty-three police cruisers followed protesters along with the three mounted police, two large booking vans, a K-9 team and a bicycle-riding officer.
Kingsbury said the police created a showdown out of a peaceful protest.
“During the rally, there was a good vibe and a lot of positive energy,” Kingsbury said. “The minute we decided to march, that was ruined.”
Kingsbury said he had been involved in previous protests followed by street marches, including some at Peavey Park, but had never seen a police presence like Saturday’s.
“I think they caused all the problems, really,” he said. “From the beginning of the march, their level of antagonism was incredible. I don’t think most people would have been as mad if police hadn’t been in their faces.”
Activist Peter Martin said the high police turnout was hypocritical.
“We’re on the corner of Chicago and Franklin. People are dealing crack across the street,” Martin said, gesturing to men standing in front of a Franklin Avenue strip mall. “But the police are here to watch us.”
American Indian Movement drummers began the rally with a song dedicated to Abu-Jamal and imprisoned American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, a founding member of the America Indian Movement.
Jim Anderson, a Highway 55 protester, said the police tactics were to be expected.
“It’s nothing new to us,” Anderson said. “The Minneapolis police are a bunch of pit bulls who do not take the Constitution into account.”
Anderson said the large number of police was partially because of Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of the 1981 slaying of a Philadelphia police officer. On Friday, Abu-Jamal’s defense team filed a writ of habeas corpus. A federal judge is expected to grant a temporary stay on a death warrant signed Wednesday by Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge.
“Because it’s a protest for Mumia, the police are going to come out and twist arms a little bit,” Anderson said.
Police officers defended their actions, saying they were necessary to maintain order and control traffic.
“I’d say these are fairly standard crowd-control procedures,” said L. Collins, a park police officer.
Protesters disagreed.
“The obvious purpose was intimidation. They’re disrupting a peaceful protest. We didn’t have any of these problems Thursday,” Martin said.
Protesters marched on Cedar and Franklin avenues after Thursday’s rally. Police did escort the protesters but allowed them to remain in the streets.
David Casebolt, who helped organize both demonstrations, said he was upset at the police decision to push the march off the street, especially after Thursday’s march ended without any arrests.
“They were definitely overaggressive and potentially dangerous. They certainly created a much larger problem than they could have possibly prevented,” Casebolt said.

Josh Linehan welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.