Simmering racial tensions boiled over yet again on Monday when a small group of white men allegedly shot five people who had been protesting the recent police killing of an African American man in Minneapolis.
The shooting occurred at around 10:41 p.m. Monday night just one block from Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct, where protesters have held daily demonstrations since the fatal Nov. 15 police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark.
Police announced on Twitter early Tuesday morning that five people had suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds, and that officers were searching for three white suspects who had fled the scene.
A police spokesman confirmed to The Washington Post that those shot had been protesting outside the police station before the incident.
A video recorded by a journalist at the scene showed people fleeing the shooting, then screaming for an ambulance. A young African American man can be seen writhing in pain with an apparent gunshot wound to the leg while fellow protesters, then police and paramedics, try to help.
Details of the shooting remained murky on Tuesday morning, however.
Oluchi Omeoga, a young protester who has participated in the demonstrations since last Monday, said she witnessed the incident.
Omeoga and her fellow protesters saw three people wearing masks who “weren’t supposed to be there,” she told the Associated Press. When the three interlopers left the crowd and began walking down the street, a few protesters followed them. But when the three men reached a corner, they pulled out weapons and fired at the protesters, Omeoga said.
“A group of white supremacists showed up at the protest, as they have done most nights,” Miski Noor, a Black Lives Matter organizer, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Police did not confirm or deny that claim.
According to Noor, the white men “opened fire on about six protesters,” after the protesters attempted to herd the men away from the protest area.
Dana Jaehnert, another demonstrator, told the Star Tribune that one of the three men wore a mask. Jaehnert said she heard four gunshots ring out.
Jie Wronski-Riley, a student at the University of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune that the shooting occurred as protesters tried to move the counter-demonstrators, who had been taunting protesters, away from the protesters’ camp in front of the police station. Suddenly, Wronski-Riley heard what sounded like firecrackers.
“Surely they’re not shooting human beings,” he thought to himself before looking down and realizing that two black men on either side of him had been hit, he told the Star Tribune, adding that the incident was “really chaotic, really fast.”
Protesters have been camping out in front of the 4th Precinct since Nov. 15, when two MPD officers were involved in the contentious killing of Jamar Clark.
Authorities say officers were responding to a call for help from paramedics, who said Clark was interrupting their attempts to help an assault victim. Clark, who was unarmed, was also a suspect in the assault, police say.
“At some point during an altercation that ensued between the officers and the individual, an officer discharged his weapon, striking the individual,” the state Department of Public Safety said in Nov. 17 statement.
Clark died in a hospital a day after being shot.
Even before his death, however, his shooting was already causing outrage. Several witnesses claimed that Clark was handcuffed at the time of the fatal shooting, although police claimed otherwise. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting at the request of MPD.
As protests gained strength last week, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges also asked the Justice Department to open a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.
Both Black Lives Matter organizers and the Minneapolis NAACP have called on authorities to release video of the shooting.
But Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday that video footage taken from an ambulance at the scene was inconclusive. Dayton, who met with protesters and Clark’s family on Saturday, said he has urged federal investigators to release the tapes as soon as possible.
Although largely peaceful, the demonstrations have been disrupted by several other incidents. More than 50 protesters were arrested on Nov. 16 after they shut down a highway. And on Friday, police announced they had arrested two men for spray-painting profanity on the 4th precinct’s walls.
After Monday night’s shooting, Clark’s family thanked protesters for their “incredible support” but said protests outside the police station should stop.
“… In light of tonight’s shootings, the family feels out of imminent concern for the safety of the occupiers, we must get the occupation of the 4th precinct ended and onto the next step,” the family said in a statement, according to the AP.