Policing, economic concerns keep protesters at 4th Precinct

Spirits were high as music played.
As music played and fires burned, spirits at the 4th Precinct were high Tuesday night.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Updated: Dec. 2, 6 a.m. | Posted: Dec. 1, 6:30 p.m.

Despite calls from political leaders, Black Lives Matter protesters still say they will not remove their encampment from the 4th Precinct police station in north Minneapolis. But on their 17th night there, protesters' numbers have dwindled.

Demonstrators continue to demand the release of video in the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, as well as the prosecution of the two officers involved. They held another rally at Minneapolis City Hall Tuesday afternoon, which drew around 100 protesters.

But protesters are beginning to focus more attention on the wide gaps in health, education and income between whites and African-Americans.

"It's not just policing. Right now there's a focus on police brutality and police reform. But overall we're trying to change all systems that are oppressive to black folks and people of color," said organizer Michael McDowell. "And you see that in every sector: health care, education, employment, housing — all these different sectors."

Some political leaders are hearing that message. On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton reiterated his call for a special legislative session to "address the serious disparities affecting Minnesotans of color." The DFL governor also attended a groundbreaking in north Minneapolis for a new employment, education and health center.

Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds said economic development on the north side needs to focus especially on black-owned businesses, primarily their access to capital. Levy-Pounds said that should go beyond government programs.

"So that means perhaps revolving loan programs, it means the business community stepping up and helping to mentor some of the business owners and inviting them into their networks, so that they're able to build their businesses and take things to a whole other level."

Volunteers haul donated firewood.
Michael Copland, right, and another volunteer haul donated firewood to the encampment.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Levy-Pounds said helping African-American businesses can put a dent in rising unemployment among blacks.

Minnesota's overall unemployment has hovered just under 4 percent for the last year. But an estimated 15 percent of black Minnesotans were unemployed in October, a figure that's risen over the last 12 months.

While Black Lives Matter continues to call politicians to account about economic disparities and policing, Levy-Pounds said protesters are not ready to leave the 4th Precinct.

"There is a grieving process that needs to take place," she said. "And anyone who's traveled to the 4th Precinct sees that it's a place of community building, but also a place of community healing."

Also Tuesday, the men charged in connection with the shooting of five African-American protesters last week made their first court appearances. Judge Hilary Caligiuri declined to lower bail for alleged gunman Allen Lawrence Scarsella of Lakeville. He is charged with rioting plus five counts of assault, and remains jailed on a $500,000 bond.

Charged alongside Scarsella are Joseph Backman, Nathan Gustavsson and Daniel Macey. Each faces one count of armed rioting.

Caligiuri kept bail at $250,000 for Backman and Gustavsson, but lowered it to $100,000 for Macey. Backman was released from custody Tuesday night.

The judge set pretrial hearings for mid-January.

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