MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — More than two weeks after protesters built an encampment outside a Minneapolis police station to protest the fatal shooting of a black man by police, officers moved in early Thursday to tear it down and evict the demonstrators.
Officers ordered around 50 chanting demonstrators to disperse about 4 a.m., and soon began removing tents and equipment, while firefighters put out the campfires. Eight protesters were arrested. Dump trucks carried away tents and supplies, and crews erected a high fence to keep people off the lawn and sidewalk in front of the station.
Crews also removed the makeshift barricades that had been blocking the avenue in front of the precinct.
"It was time," Mayor Betsy Hodges said at a news conference. "We have been balancing the safety needs of the precinct with the right for people to protest and have their voices be heard."
Demonstrators led by the local Black Lives Matter group had gathered outside the 4th Precinct station since shortly after the Nov. 15 shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark. He died the following day.
Police responding to a report of an assault in which Clark was a suspect said they arrived to find him interfering with paramedics who were trying to treat the victim. Police say a struggle followed and Clark was shot. Some community members have alleged that Clark was handcuffed when he was shot, but the head of the police union has disputed this.
State and federal investigations are underway.
The protesters have demanded the release of any videos showing the shooting and that the Hennepin County attorney's office take full responsibility for prosecuting the officers instead of leaving it up to a grand jury to decide whether they should face charges.
Seven people were arrested during the eviction early Thursday for obstructing the legal process, and another was arrested for trespassing, Police Chief Janee Harteau told reporters. All eight were taken to the county Jail, and she said she thought at least some were soon released. Nobody was injured, she said.
"I do want to make notice to future protests that we will continue to support and facilitate your First Amendment rights and freedom of speech. But, we will also support and enforce the ordinances of the city of Minneapolis and the laws of the state of Minnesota," Harteau said.
Protesters won't be allowed to set up similar encampments or block streets for extended periods going forward, the police chief said.
It wasn't immediately clear when operations would return to normal at the station. The new temporary fence blocked the sidewalk along the entire block and public access to the front door. A new fence across the street left the sidewalk open, so protesters could conceivably gather there.
The protesters who weren't arrested dispersed peacefully, and they plan to regroup for a demonstration at 4 p.m. outside City Hall, organizer Kandace Montgomery said. They weren't ready to discuss their other plans, she said.
"I'm feeling angry," Montgomery said, naming Hodges and some City Council members who had joined the mayor in urging an end to the protests for the sake of public safety. Montgomery said the officials were more concerned about interfering with peaceful protesters than about solving the racial disparities in the city.
Harteau said the protesters' property had been saved and could be reclaimed, but Montgomery said their tents, other equipment and stockpiles of donated food and clothing were ruined.
"Hundreds of dollars of food that could have fed the community has been thrown away," she said.
Montgomery said the fight was not over.
"We're not going to wait any more for Mayor Hodges to just sit and talk about racial equity and not do anything," she said.