This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing authentic news reporting about Minnesota's new immigrants and refugees. MPR News is a partner with Sahan Journal and will be sharing stories between SahanJournal.com and MPRNews.org.
By Logan Carroll, Sahan Journal
Children suffering from tear gas exposure, even though they are at home and in bed. A man hit in the hand by what appeared to be a pellet from crowd-control munitions. A guest arrested while trying to park his car.
The Sterling Square Apartments is a two-building complex that stands directly across the street from the Brooklyn Center Police Department. For the last several nights, the lawn in front of the buildings has become the center of protests over the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Law enforcement has repeatedly deployed blunt crowd control tactics that disrupt the protests, but also sweep in people who live nearby.
On Monday, the second night of protests, the aggressive crowd control tactics were deployed shortly after the city passed a resolution banning their use by the BCPD.
Nuwoe Larblah, a Liberian immigrant, lives with his partner and two children, an 11-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son. On the first night, Sunday, Larblah said tear gas got into his apartment and irritated his children, even though his doors and windows were closed. His partner took the kids to stay with his mother the next night.
“The first night was really hectic,” he said, but the children are fine now.
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Larblah blames the police for the chaos, and is still shaken by the killing of Wright.
On April 11, four Brooklyn Center police officers pulled over Wright because his vehicle registration had expired. During the stop, they discovered Wright had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear at a hearing in March.
Wright fled when they tried to arrest him, and was shot by 26-year veteran officer Kimberly Potter. Police body cam footage of the incident shows that Potter threatened to tase Wright, shouting “Taser” several times before discharging her firearm. Police Chief Tim Gannon told reporters she accidentally shot Wright, mistaking her firearm for a taser.
Last Sunday, the same day Wright was killed, Larblah was also pulled over by four BCPD officers because his headlight wasn’t working. When the officer came to the car window, Larblah said, “He didn’t ask if I knew why he pulled me over.” Instead, the officer quizzed Larblah about where he was coming from, and where he was going.
“That’s just uncalled for. Do your job and move on,” Larblah said. “I’m a Black man, right? This is the American dream. Land of the free. That’s where we’re living here and now, I guess. It’s supposed to be the land of the free.”
‘You follow all these rules, and where does it get you?’
Larblah, who came to the United States in 1993, said he has since seen most of his friends get deported, “I’m trying to do what I can to stay here, to be here. But what can you do? You follow all these rules, and where does it get you?”
Last night, he was talking to his daughter about Daunte Wright when she asked him, “Who’s next?”
“It could be me,” Larblah told her.
Larblah said that the apartments are home to many immigrants, including Liberians, Somalis, and Central Americans. But there are also many native-born U.S. citizens, most of them Black.
Rowmar Jackson said he lives in the building with his mother, and has also had a run in with BCPD.
Last summer, he and two friends were stopped in a McDonald’s parking lot by Brooklyn Center Police. There was only one car at first, but the situation quickly escalated, Jackson said. “There were like five cop cars all surrounding us.” Officers handcuffed Jackson and his friends and sat them on a curb while they searched the car for a gun.
“I don’t know why they thought we had a gun,” Jackson said, “Maybe because we were three young Black men?” There was no gun in the car, and Jackson and his friends were released.
Another Black man who lived in the apartments declined to give his name, but said he was smoking in his garage on Sunday night when police began launching crowd-control munitions at protesters.
“They were firing these little firework things. Here.” The man scanned the ground. A moment later, he spotted what he was looking for in the grass, five feet away, and picked up a small metal canister. About the size of a tea candle, the canister appears to be the spent shell of a crowd control munition.
His garage is about 500 feet from the edge of the BCPD property, but the man showed a small wound on one of his fingers and said the munition hit him while he was inside his garage.
Larblah’s neighbor, Ivan Seekie, is also a Liberian immigrant. He took his children to a motel on the first night, “but we can’t do that forever,” he said. At 7:30 on Monday night, Seekie said he was still trying to decide whether or not to take his children back to the motel.
Brooklyn Center City Council tries to ban aggressive crowd-control tactics
Shortly after 8 p.m., the Brooklyn Center City Council passed a resolution banning the use of aggressive crowd-control tactics during protests, including tear gas and kettling.
But by then the BCPD was already in position to kettle protesters. At 8:30, they began firing tear gas.
The first cloud of gas erupted from amid a crowd of protesters across the street from the apartments, but grew and drifted with the wind. Within seconds, it enveloped the buildings. Tear gas, though frequently described as a safe way to disperse crowds, can have long-term health effects.
Larblah’s cousin was arrested in the kettling that ensued. “He tried to park his car right there,” Larbahl said, pointing to a spot 15 feet from the apartment. “He was about to come up when they stopped him and said he was violating curfew.”
Of the seven residents who spoke to Sahan, each blamed the Brooklyn Center police for the chaos. Many expressed solidarity with the protesters, and were more concerned about the killing of Daunte Wright than with the situation in which they now found themselves.
“We don’t want to answer violence with violence, because that doesn’t help anyone. But Daunte Wright is dead and someone needs to be held responsible for that.”
“We don’t want to answer violence with violence, because that doesn’t help anyone,” Jackson said, “but Daunte Wright is dead and someone needs to be held responsible for that.”
Larblah agreed with his neighbors: “Honestly, I just want justice out of this whole situation.”