Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Minnesota students walk out, calling for investigation of Khalil Azad's death

A young Black woman yells a protest chant
Coon Rapids High School senior and student activist Nadia Abraham chants during a walkout honoring Khalil Azad in Minneapolis on Monday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

A group of Minnesota students planned a walkout Monday in Minneapolis to call for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Khalil Azad.

He was a young Black man found dead in Crystal Lake in July of 2022, two days after Robbinsdale police attempted to pull him over for a traffic stop.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke to MPR News reporter Elizabeth Shockman to learn more.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Another story we're following, a group of Minnesota students is planning a walkout in Minneapolis later today to call for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Khalil Azad. He was a young Black man who was found dead in Crystal Lake in July, two days after Robbinsdale Police attempted to pull him over for a traffic stop. Here to tell us more about the walkout is education reporter Elizabeth Shockman. Hey, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: Hi, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Say, before we talk about this walkout, can you tell us more about Khalil Azad and the Robbinsdale Police Department?

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: Sure, this is something our colleagues here at MPR have done some reporting on. So Khalil Azad was a 26-year-old man who was found dead in Crystal Lake in July last year, as you said, two days after Robbinsdale police attempted to pull him over for a traffic stop. The Robbinsdale Police Department is planning to release body camera footage this week of the interaction that they had with Azad. The police department has also requested the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension conduct an independent review of the case.

CATHY WURZER: I know there was a medical examiner's report. What do we know about how Azad died?

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: That's right. We have some reports, both from the Robbinsdale Police Department and the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office on this. So Robbinsdale Police said that they attempted to pull Azad over on July 3 of last. Year but he fled the scene after his car hit a tree around 1:00 in the morning. After that, police, including a K-9 unit and a State Patrol helicopter, searched for Azad for about 30 minutes. But they did not find him until July 5, when they say that they were dispatched to reports of an unknown body in Crystal Lake. In October, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office declared the cause of death as freshwater drowning.

CATHY WURZER: OK, that was back in July. How does the walk out this afternoon come into all of this?

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: So Azad's family are questioning the circumstances of his death after seeing graphic photos in the autopsy report. Last Monday, they held a press conference to demand an independent investigation and the release of body camera footage. Now the Minnesota Teen Activist group is getting behind those requests and planning a walkout.

CATHY WURZER: Now, we've talked to them in the past about other issues. Tell us more about this group. They've led school walkouts before.

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: That's right. So as we said, Minnesota Teen Activists, this is a group that is led by high school students and recent graduates. They are focused on racial justice issues. And they have been involved in various forms of activism, since 2020, that we've covered. They've staged several walkouts before, including a statewide walkout to protest the police killing of Daunte Wright in 2021 and in 2022, protests against gun violence following the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. They've also used their social media platform to bring attention to racist incidents in Minnesota K-through-12 schools.

CATHY WURZER: So what is Minnesota Teen Activists demanding today?

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: They want to see footage from the police chase released, so body camera, dash camera, traffic light footage, helicopter footage. They're also asking for an independent investigation into all agencies involved in this incident. And they're also calling for an independent investigation into the policies and practices of the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office.

CATHY WURZER: Any other groups that have raised concerns about Azad's death?

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: Some of the images from the autopsy report have been circulating on social media and drawing strong reactions. Trahan Cruz, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Minnesota, has questioned the autopsy and the police report.

CATHY WURZER: Say, there were reports that Khalil Azad was a pretty good swimmer. Has that come into this at all?

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: That's right. So that is some of the reasons that people are bringing questions about the cause of death and the police and autopsy reports involved in this matter.

CATHY WURZER: All right, are you going to go to the walkout today?

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: Yes, we will be there to cover the walkout. In the past, these sorts of events have drawn hundreds of young students. It's my understanding that the Minnesota Teen Activist group has been working hard to prepare for the event. They will be marching through Central Minneapolis to the Hennepin Government Center early this afternoon.

CATHY WURZER: All right, Elizabeth, thank you so much.

ELIZABETH SHOCKMAN: You're welcome.

CATHY WURZER: That's NPR News reporter Elizabeth Shockman. Students with Minnesota Teen Activists are gathering at 1:30 this afternoon to call for an investigation into the death of Khalil Azad.

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