John Thompson and Mel Reeves take the podium. Photo by Chris Dang/Minnesota Daily.
In a dramatic testament to community solidarity against longtime and recent police abuses, a raucous, multi-racial crowd of protesters shut down a press conference by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges even as she was announcing the forced resignation of the city's police chief over those same abuses. Friday's clash came as Hodges was telling reporters she had “lost confidence" in Police Chief Janeé Harteau in the wake of last week's shooting of Australian yoga teacher Justine Damond, who was inexplicably killed by an officer after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault nearby. The shooting sparked protests and vigils; because Damond was white, it also provided an intersectional wake-up call for those who long felt immune to police violence. “It is time for me and other white people to wake up,” said one of Damond's neighbors. “It’s our reality now.” Their awakening has been welcomed by black activists who have long fought in vain for justice. "It's never been about race," insisted Cathy Jones. "It's been about police accountability."
That same theme of universality surfaced at the protest against Hodges, where protesters began streaming in as she was announcing the resignation. In a powerful scene, she was confronted by a diverse crowd of young white activists, middle-aged white residents, and community advocates for police reform led by several black activists - Mel Reeves, Chauntyll Allen and John Thompson, a friend of Philando Castile galvanized by his 2016 killing in the same city; he and Allen wore baseball caps reading "Philando." They led the crowd in a modified chant first used while calling for justice for Castile: “If Justine don’t get it, shut it down!” As Hodges struggled to take back the floor - "I hear and understand your objections" - she was quickly drowned out by angry chants of "This Is Our House,“ "Bye Bye Betsy,” and "Who Shut This Down? We Shut This Down!" Over the chants, Thompson told Hodges her leadership was "ineffective," called for her resignation, and stressed that the community wants institutional change. "Your police department has terrorized us enough!" he shouted. "You don't want to hear us. So hear me now - we do not want you as the Mayor of Minneapolis." Soon after, Hodges fled the scene. Watch.
Castile's mother and Damond's partner come together at earlier protests. Photos by Aaron Lavinsky