Protesters gather to challenge acquittal

by Travis Reed

Armed with banners and signs whipping in the bitter downtown winds, about 150 protesters assembled in front of the Minneapolis Federal District Court building Monday to protest the acquittal of four New York City police officers charged with fatally wounding an unarmed man.
Last February, the plain-clothes officers cornered West African immigrant Amadou Diallo and shot him 41 times after Diallo reached for what the policemen thought was a gun, but turned out to be a wallet.
The jury’s decision to free the officers on all charges sent shivers of rage through the spines of activists — from Diallo’s Bronx neighborhood to their counterparts in the Twin Cities.
As Minneapolis’ top government buildings loomed in the background and police cars lined Fourth Street in front of City Hall, the protest’s focal point, protesters shouted, “Police brutality is a reality,” and, “Police training 101; it’s a wallet, not a gun.”
Similar protests have become prevalent nationwide in the post-verdict aftermath. In New York City, more than 1,000 protesters crowded the United Nations’ headquarters with activist the Rev. Al Sharpton to denounce the verdict.
“We live in a system in which police are not held accountable for what they do,” said Michelle Gross, an organizer for the Twin Cities’ chapter of Refuse & Resist!, an organization that fights police brutality. “This can not be allowed to go down this way: unopposed.”
Gross expressed her disapproval of the decision and examined, piece-by-piece, many flaws she saw in the proceedings, including the city’s decision to move the trial to Albany instead of keeping it in Diallo’s Bronx neighborhood where a substantially larger minority population lives. The jury did, however, include four black women.
“If police can’t tell the difference between a wallet and a gun, they ought not to be police officers,” Gross exclaimed through a bullhorn.
With the sirens of a police car nearly rendering her indecipherable as it raced across the street, Hamline University history professor Robin Magee said it was ironic that the verdict came down during Black History Month.
Many of the protesters said it could have been any one of them in Diallo’s place.
“Martin Luther King talked about having a dream, but I live a nightmare,” Magee said. “This isn’t a New York problem; this is our problem here in the Twin Cities.”
Several police officers in front of the downtown police station looked on as the protesters displayed signs denouncing police brutality and, at times, directed criticisms toward the officers themselves, though the protest never turned violent.
“(Protests) are the cornerstone of our liberty in this country,” said Minneapolis Police Sgt. Bruce Carpenter. “It’s a tragedy for everyone involved. Unfortunately, we have to make split-second decisions, and they can turn tragic at times.”
As the sun slowly set and the dying activity of downtown amplified their cries in echoes against the walls of City Hall, the protesters made it clear that last week’s verdict will not mark the end of the final trial for the officers.
“This is a complete system of police brutality,” said Pete Johnson, a University political science senior. “We need to get together and show the police that the community is not going to take it anymore.”

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected].