Updated Apr 15, 2021 - Politics

Daunte Wright protests reignite debate over police response to unrest

Police in riot gear toss a projectile at protesters in Brooklyn Park on April 11. Photo: Christopher Mark Juhn/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ongoing protests over Daunte Wright's death have renewed debate over the tactics police use to control crowds and respond to civil unrest.

Driving the news: Hundreds of demonstrators gathered for a fourth straight night in Brooklyn Center Wednesday. Law enforcement used flash-bang grenades and pepper balls to disperse the crowd as a 10 p.m. curfew set in.

The state of play: Law enforcement officials say the tactics are necessary to restore order and protect residents and property when peaceful protests begin to devolve, but activists in Minnesota and beyond say the "militarized" response is overly aggressive, dangerous and actually risks inciting more violence.

Context: Brooklyn Center City Council passed a resolution Monday banning the use of rubber bullets and tear gas by local police. Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, who now directs the department, is also opposed.

  • "We have to approach policing in a different way, in a more humane way," he said.
  • But Elliott said operations in question were led by the Hennepin County Sheriff's office as part of Operation Safety Net, a "unified command" of state and local law enforcement units activated for Derek Chauvin trial security.

What they're saying: State Patrol Colonel Matt Langer said earlier this week that the efforts to force the crowd to disperse were a response to "activities that lead toward a riot," such as setting off fireworks and throwing objects.

  • "The behaviors we continue to see are unacceptable and we are not going to tolerate them," Langer added.
  • Gov. Tim Walz also defended the response, calling the use of less-lethal force "thoughtful" and noting impacted protesters were "given the opportunity to peacefully disperse and chose not to." He's faced backlash from some fellow Democrats over the comments.

Flashback: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine tallied dozens of injuries caused by "less-lethal" weapons used for crowd control during the protests that followed George Floyd's killing.

  • Several injured demonstrators have sued the Minneapolis Police Department over the use of force.

The bottom line: The clashes are further raising tensions between protesters and police as Chauvin trial nears a close.

  • The verdict has the potential to ignite even bigger protests β€” and security responses β€” across the Twin Cities.

This story has been updated with additional details from Wednesday's protests.


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