Civil rights organizations shut down a planned rally for Sen. Amy Klobuchar's presidential campaign outside Minneapolis on Sunday night after occupying the stage for more than an hour, demanding the Minnesota senator address their concerns over her record as a former prosecutor.
Dozens of demonstrators, led by the NAACP and Black Lives Matter, entered the gymnasium at St. Louis Park High School where Klobuchar was set to speak to supporters. The protesters expressed support for Myon Burrell, a young black man who was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he maintains he didn't commit when Klobuchar was the attorney for Hennepin County, Minnesota.
The protesters called for the senator to drop out of the 2020 Democratic primary, chanting, "Klobuchar has got to go!" and "Free Myon!"
ST. LOUIS PARK, MN — Protesters in Senator Klobuchar’s home state have stormed the stage at her campaign rally, with dozens chanting, “Free Myon!” and “Klobuchar has got to go!” pic.twitter.com/n0MLZK3mO7
— Nicole Sganga (@NicoleSganga) March 2, 2020
— The Hill (@thehill) March 2, 2020
Demonstrators protesting Klobuchar’s handling of the Myon Burrell case as a co prosecutor pour into the gym where the senator is set to rally supporters. They want her to drop out. pic.twitter.com/98HRr1MRUA
— Torey Van Oot (@toreyvanoot) March 2, 2020
Dozens of demonstrators climbed onstage to display signs reading, "Shame" and "What's the sentence for being innocent?" as they called on Klobuchar to meet with Burrell's family and discuss the case publicly at the rally.
Burrell was first convicted of first-degree murder in 2003 in the case of Tyesha Edwards, who was shot by a stray bullet. He was 16 at the time of the murder. Two other men who Burrell hadn't previously known were also convicted and sentenced for the crime. The Associated Press reported last month about flaws in Klobuchar's case against Burrell, including her office's failure to pursue alibis and its heavy reliance on the account of a "teen rival" of Burrell instead of multiple eyewitnesses, DNA, or fingerprints.
Burrell's sentence was overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court but he was convicted again in 2008 for the same crime, after Klobuchar had become a senator.
Black Lives Matter and other supporters of Burrell say Klobuchar should do more than simply call for the case to be reviewed, as she has during the 2020 primary election. Activists have also criticized the senator for boasting about her record of being "tough on crime" while also declining to bring charges in more than two dozen cases of excessive force used by police officers. When running for her Senate seat in 2006, Klobuchar told NBC, "I'm someone who puts people in jail for a living."
"There is an entire community that suffered under her leadership, and she has refused to accept accountability for the harm that she caused," Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer who helped lead Sunday's protest, told the New York Times last week.
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Journalist Adam Johnson applauded the demonstration and remarked on the shift, driven by Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups, toward widespread public criticism of candidates who attempt to run on their prosecution histories.
"For too long, 'Tough On Crime DA' has been a stepping stone for careerists of both parties and a major reason our system is so mindlessly cruel," tweeted Johnson. "That it's a potential liability now is HUGE."
cant stress how important these protests & the broader trend of criticizing past prosecutions is. For too long Tough On Crime DA has been a stepping stone for careerists of both parties & a major reason our system is so mindlessly cruel. That its a potential liability now is HUGE https://t.co/eGAquNRel0
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) March 2, 2020
no longer can prosecutors reflexively and mindlessly seek the longest, harshest penalty with zero political risk. The dynamic has changed (albeit not nearly enough) and the second order effects on other DA's is probably immeasurable.
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) March 2, 2020
Critics say Klobuchar should use her influence as a senator to pressure Hennepin County prosecutors to reopen Burrell's case.
"Amy Klobuchar has the power and the influence—if she wanted to actually help us to free him she could, and she doesn't want to," Leslie Redmond, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, told USA Today on Sunday.
After the Klobuchar campaign informed the audience that Sunday night's rally would be canceled due to the protest, her campaign manager told the press that the senator had been willing to meet with the demonstrators and that they had backed out—an account Levy Armstrong disputed.
Klobuchar had not agreed to the group's request that she speak publicly with Burrell's family at the rally, Levy Armstrong said.
For the record, Protestors at Amy Klobuchar’s Rally on Sunday night did not back out of a deal to meet with the Senator. We agreed for Amy to meet with Myon Burrell’s family, .@LeslieERedmond @NAACPmpls Prez and me. We also asked that Amy directly address Myon’s case on stage.
— Nekima Levy Armstrong (formerly Levy-Pounds) (@nvlevy) March 2, 2020
"We thought that Amy Klobuchar speaking about Myon's case with Myon's family on stage was a reasonable request and a good way to let attendees know why we were there," she said. "Instead of responding to this request, Amy's team decided to cancel the event."