Protesters peacefully took to the streets in Minneapolis on Saturday in a plea to defund the Minneapolis Police Department — a demand that Mayor Jacob Frey told them he could not support.
There was no official estimate of the crowd’s size, but organizers say several thousand attended the march.
The protest was one of many nationwide over the death of George Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s death has sparked a national conversation about defunding or downsizing police departments.
Organized by the Minneapolis advocacy group Black Visions, the event began at Bottineau Field Park, passed by the Minneapolis Police Federation’s union headquarters, and ended outside Frey’s home.
While several members of the Minneapolis City Council support disbanding the department in favor of a model calling for community-led safety, Frey has said he favors reforms instead.
As protesters stopped near his home, Frey emerged and said, “I have been coming to grips with my own responsibility, my own failure in this.” When protesters confronted him on whether he will defund the department, Frey said, “I do not support the full abolition of the Police Department.”
He was then ordered to leave the gathering, and did as protesters yelled, “Go home Jacob, go home!” and “Shame!” The clip was spread widely on social media.
The march featured poetry readings, indigenous prayers, dancing, placards of all sorts and chants of “George Floyd!” and “Black Lives Matter!”
When the throng pulled up outside police union headquarters on University Avenue, which is surrounded by chain-link fence, they shouted, “You are about to lose your job!” A banner that stated “Closed for Business” was draped from the building.
The police presence at the march appeared to be limited to a few officers on bicycles who kept their distance. March organizers, wearing bright orange and yellow vests, some on bicycles, redirected traffic away from the marchers’ path.
Participants pushed strollers, hoisted toddlers on their shoulders and walked dogs.
Addressing the crowd, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said the time for departmental reform has passed. “The Minneapolis Police Department is rotten to the root and so when we dismantle it, we get rid of that cancer and we allow for something beautiful to rise.”
Natasha Byers of Bloomington said she attended the march and supports the cause because “police are destroying black folks, they’re killing us for no reason.”
Others said they hope change will occur. “I want to be able to walk outside my home and not be afraid that I’m going to be attacked” by police or die, said Jaaz Cousin of Minneapolis. “It’s our generation; this is the world we live in.”
The City Council voted Friday to ban police officers from using chokeholds and neck restraints and strengthened rules for officers to intervene if a colleague is using excessive force. The action needs a judge’s approval.
Staff writer Cathy Roberts contributed to this report.