Demonstrators Shut Down Press Conference, Demand Resignation from Hodges

After being initially locked out of City Hall, demonstrators stormed a press conference addressing the shooting death of Justine Damond by police officer Mohamed Noor. Hodges gave a statement about the resignation of Police Chief Janeé Harteau but was escorted out of the room by aides when demonstrators crowded the podium with chants of “bye bye Betsy”. The demonstration took place one week after Damond’s death and one day after a vigil and rally in her neighborhood.

The march began in Loring Park, where multiple people from the Black Lives Matter movement New North spoke about multiple recent deaths at the hands of police officers. Many of speakers and organizers were also present at the “March for Healing and Justice for Justine + ALL killed by police,” which marched through Damond’s neighborhood just the day before.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, a mayoral candidate and law professor with a history in civil rights law, was one of the organizers of yesterdays’ march in downtown and holds strong stances on police reform and racial inequalities.

Levy-Pounds was not present because she was in the hospital after delivering her child that day.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, mayoral candidate and former law professor. Image credit: J.D. Duggan

“This has been a tough week in our city for most of the white people in the crowd and for people of color as well. We are much more used to the murders in our community,” said Samantha Pree-Stinson, a Minneapolis City Council candidate for Ward 2, “I’m hoping now that Justine’s death will not be in vain. We must continue to fight together and work together to stop this behavior from the Minneapolis Police Department, we have to have the community involved.”

“This should not have happened, but we have to make sure it just doesn’t get called that way only when it happens to white people,” Pree-Stinson continued. The sentiment was shared by other speakers. John Thompson, an organizer for New North, said that he’s been out on the streets fighting unnecessary police violence for years.

A neighbor of Damond’s who spoke at the march in Southwest Minneapolis on Thursday said that she can’t safely call 911 anymore, even in her “upper-class, predominantly-white neighborhood.”

Demonstrators march down Fifth Street. Image credit: Benjamin Pecka

As the march continued to to meet the mayor at City Hall down Hennepin Avenue, police rode ahead in cars and bicycles to redirect traffic and clear the way. The light rail was delayed while protesters marched down 5th Street chanting.

When the protest reached City Hall, the doors were locked and a couple members of the group began banging on the glass doors until organizers told them that this was a peaceful protest. Demonstrators ran back and forth between the north and south entrances until one of them managed to follow a member of the press into the building.

Multiple organizers spoke through the chants and yelling of the protesters in the packed hearing room. Image credit: J.D. Duggan

Demonstrators made their way to the third floor and chanted as they filled the conference room to capacity, interrupting Mayor Betsy Hodges’ by calling for her immediate resignation.

“You are ineffective as a leader and we want you to step down, just like your Chief Harteau did. I don’t want you as the mayor, Betsy Hodges. You can’t lock us out of our house and hold a press conference so you can rubber stamp bullshit,” said John Thompson.

Mayor Betsy Hodges left shortly after protesters took over the hearing room that housed the press conference. Image credit: J.D. Duggan

Hodges attempted to respond but once demonstrators broke past the line of video cameras and erupted into chants of “bye bye Betsy,” she was escorted out of the room. Chauntyll Allen, a leader from Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, said “We’re gonna hold a press conference now so the press can hear what the people have to say … This is the peoples’ city.”

Michelle Gross, from Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) addressed the press and crowded room “These problems did not start with Janeé Harteau … These problems fall strictly at the feet of city leadership.”

Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality. Image credit: J.D. Duggan

Gross criticized the lack of body camera footage and a low sustain rate of police complaints, saying that, “We’ve got real problems in this town, but you’re looking at the people who are going to solve those problems. We’re gonna run their asses out of office, we’re gonna take over this city hall, and we’re gonna run this damn town like it needs to be run.”

Demonstrators left City Hall and gathered outside of the south entrance. Addressing the crowd in a parting speech, Thompson said, “Today marks the day of the New North. This is over, we will be getting Nekima in office.”

Allen, who spoke at both marches for Justine said that, “It was great action. I’m happy that people got a voice at City Hall, I’m happy about Harteau’s resignation, but it’s not enough. The whole system needs to be revamped.”

A live feed of the hijacked press conference can be viewed in full here:

Benjamin Pecka contributed to this story.

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