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Tensions Rise in Minneapolis Region After Police Shooting

Hundreds of protestors gathered for a second night around the Brooklyn Center Police Department in Minnesota, a reaction to police shooting and killing Daunte Wright on Sunday afternoon. A curfew was initiated at 7:00 p.m.; authorities reported at a Tuesday morning press conference that more than 40 people were arrested for violating the curfew.

Brooklyn Center is a Minneapolis suburb only a few miles from the site of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with murdering George Floyd last summer. The death of Floyd at the hands of the police sparked months-long nationwide protests during spring and summer 2020.

The entire Minneapolis area was under the governor-ordered curfew. In addition to the 40 people in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis police said that 13 people were arrested in the city.

Fencing was erected around the Brooklyn Center Police Department. A vigil earlier in the day at the site of Wright’s death ended at curfew, and organizers urged the crowd to go home. But crowd that grew to hundreds of people had already gathered at the police department. For a few hours, police urged protestors to honor the curfew. The crowd threw various debris at the police, and Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matt Langer said several officers suffered minor injuries. Police then used anti-riot tactics, including rubber bullets, tear gas, and flash grenades to disperse the crowd. Eventually, police moved protestors away from the police department, creating a perimeter of a few blocks. Protestors were mostly dispersed by the time of the news conference at approximately 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Several stores in a shopping center near the police department were reportedly broken into and looted. However, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that “law enforcement leaders at the news conference described looting as limited and sporadic.”

Earlier on Monday, authorities released body camera footage of the shooting of Wright. In the video, Officer Kim Potter, who was wearing the camera, can be heard shouting several warnings that she was about to use her Taser, and then expressing surprise, “Holy (expetive), I shot him!”

Potter is a 26-year veteran of the force and was placed on leave pending review of the incident before she resigned.

"I have loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community to the best of my ability, but I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers if I resign immediately," according to Potter's resignation letter that was obtained by The Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon also resigned.

The Associated Press reports that mistaking a Taser for a firearm is rare, it “probably happens less than once a year nationwide,” but is not unheard-of. The most well-known example happened in 2009 when Oscar Grant was killed by police in Oakland, California, in an incident captured on video. The officer, Johannes Mehserle, and witnesses reported that Mehserle warned he was about to tase Grant before shooting him in the back. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison.  The police department paid $2.8 million to Grant’s daughter and her mother.

The Star Tribune reports at least 11 other incidents, including the case of Oscar Grant, in which police shot a person when their intent was to use a Taser. In 1999, Axon Enterprises introduced the Advanced Taser M-26 model, which changed the shape of the device from a television-remote-control shape to one with handgun-style grip. Subsequent models kept the style with the grip, which are the predominant model in use.

Axon released a statement Monday obtained by The Star Tribune on the possibility of mistaking handguns for Tasers.

"Axon also specifically warns of the possibility of weapon confusion and provides training recommendations to mitigate against it. Based on recommendations by use of force experts, Axon recommends that a TASER energy weapon be placed on an officer's non-dominant side, and firearm on the dominant side," the statement read.

In addition to Wright and Grant, two other people have died when a handgun was mistaken for a Taser: Everardo Torres was killed in 2002 while handcuffed in the back of police car in Fresno, California, and Eric Courtney Harris was shot and killed in 2015 by a sheriff’s deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as he fled a crime scene.

In Brooklyn Center, the city council fired the city manager and gave “command authority” to Mayor Mike Elliott. Elliott is the first Black mayor of the city, which has undergone rapid demographic change from a 70 percent white population in 2000 to a white population of approximately 40 percent today. The Star Tribune reports that Brooklyn Center police have killed six civilians since 2012, four of whom were Black.

Meanwhile, the prosecution in the George Floyd murder trial is set to conclude its case with the defense then getting its turn to present witnesses and evidence. A verdict will likely come before the end of the month, setting up the possibility for a combustible spring. 

"Apprehension over the potential fallout from the Chauvin verdict, which is likely to come this month, had already reached considerable heights," according to The Washington Post. "Minneapolis is still grappling with the chaos that erupted following the killing of George Floyd last year, and the city’s center is locked down because of the trial of Chauvin, who is accused of Floyd’s death. Local officials have said they are spending $1 million on security, bringing in waves of law enforcement and erecting fences topped with barbed wire.

"But community leaders said Monday that, especially given the fresh wounds of Sunday’s shooting, they doubt any amount of security will be enough to maintain the peace should Chauvin be acquitted—or even convicted on lesser charges."

In summer 2020, protests quickly spread across the country and even to other countries. Monday night, unrest was reported in Portland, Oregon (which was also a hotbed of protest last summer). Portland police declared the incident a riot as at least 200 people gathered near a building that houses offices from several different law enforcement agencies.

As businesses monitor the situation and assess threat levels, ASIS International has collected resources to support security when facing civil unrest and disturbances. Last month, in a Security Management online exclusive article, Claire Meyer presents tactics for “Protest Preparedness: Analyzing Crowd Dynamics, Threat Actors, and Intelligence,” and last August presented a Q&A entitled “Organizations Face Supercharged Activism.”

U.S. President Joe Biden urged protestors to stay focused on their message and to avoid acts of violence.

“It is really a tragic thing that happened, but I think we’ve got to wait and see what the investigation shows,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “In the meantime, I want to make it clear again: There is absolutely no justification—none—for looting, no justification for violence. Peaceful protests—understandable.”