MINNEAPOLIS — A sixth night of protests outside the twin-fenced Brooklyn Center police headquarters ended within a few chaotic minutes Friday night when the National Guard and State Patrol rushed a dwindling but increasingly volatile crowd and made arrests.
At its peak, the crowd protesting Sunday's fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by a former Brooklyn Center police officer swelled to about 1,000 people, one of the week's largest gatherings. And early on, the protest had the air of a block party.
But everything changed about 9 p.m., when arguments erupted within the crowd about protest tone and tactics after one speaker called for the fences to be rushed and taken down, with some attempting to do just that.
Troops and officers who had stood back behind the fences and simply watched most of the night swiftly issued dispersal orders, fired flash-bang grenades and moved in to arrest people after the attempt to breach the fences and when an increasing number of objects were thrown at them by a few protesters.
For most of the night, no curfew was in effect, but late Friday, an 11 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew was hastily declared.
In a news conference early Saturday, law enforcement leaders stressed that Friday's gathering was peaceful and legal until its last few minutes, and expressed disappointment that Thursday night's strategy of backing off and waiting out the protest did not work Friday.
John Harrington, commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, laid out a detailed timeline of Friday's events. For several hours, he said, the gathering was passionate, peaceful and orderly. But just before 9 p.m., an assault on the fences was undertaken and glass bottles, rocks and other objects were being thrown at officers, he said.
By 9:30 p.m. an attempt was made to cut parts of the fence, although he and others at the news conference did offered no details on how that breach was attempted and how extensive it was.
When law enforcement observed some people who were wearing helmets, hockey or gas masks and tactical gear moving on the front and back fences with baseball bats, shields, bleach and other items that they had been hiding behind nearby Dumpsters and buildings, they issued three dispersal orders and then quickly moved in to make arrests, Harrington said. He said most people fled at that point and officers focused on those who were hard by the fences.
"This is a night that should have been about Daunte Wright," Harrington said with visible emotion, adding that the chaos of the last few minutes hijacked an otherwise legal, nonviolent protest.