Protest in Detroit Lakes brings out police, onlookers
Demonstrators from Detroit Lakes and White Earth gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in Detroit Lakes on Sunday evening, May 31, to protest the death of George Floyd after being apprehended May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer.
“George Floyd brought us here to get the message across to people to stop police brutality, to stop racism,” said Mo Iven of Detroit Lakes. “This is a peaceful protest -- we’re not here to riot, this isn’t Minneapolis,” he added.
“We’re here to bring justice for people of color,” added Jasmine Clark of Detroit Lakes.
At one point there were several hundred people in the area, either with the protesters, or watching the action from across the street or down the block.
The protest began at around 5:30 p.m., with a couple of dozen demonstrators chanting "George Floyd," "say his name" and "no justice, no peace."
The demonstrators said they went to the Detroit Lakes Police Department around 5 p.m., hoping to get a statement demanding justice for Floyd. One demonstrator said his goal locally was to encourage law enforcement to withdraw police union support, better training for officers, and stiffer penalties for abuse charges.
Many of the demonstrators said they were at protests in Minneapolis earlier in the day.
In the parking lot in front of the nearby O'Reilly's Auto Parts store, Robert Fabel, 64, was leaning on his 2000 Harley-Davidson motorcycle and keeping an eye on the store, where his daughter works.
“I think everybody has the right to protest,” he said. “What this country is going through is just heartbreaking over this (death). I watched that guy die on TV and it damn near put me in tears.”
But that doesn’t excuse agitators using the protests as an opportunity to riot, burn and loot, he said. “They tarnish George’s memory,” he said.
Late on Sunday evening, Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk enacted a curfew in the city, from 9 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday, June 1.
“The City of Detroit Lakes supports peaceful protest and individuals First Amendment rights," Brenk said in a news release. "Unfortunately, some individuals choose to engage in property damage and other unlawful acts. This curfew is being implemented for the safety of all members of our community. Our number one priority is protecting and serving our residents and locally owned small businesses."
Neither the protesters nor onlookers created a disturbance, other than some cursing back and forth. Police officers were observed speaking to a man across the street from protesters who had been making hand gestures toward them. Some passing drivers honked in solidarity with the protest.
Detroit Lakes volunteer firefighter Dusty Matson was one of those taking in the scene and talking to friends. He said he was ready to back up law enforcement if needed. “With everything that’s been going on all over, I just want to make sure everything stays peaceful,” he said.
Detroit Lakes Police Sgt. Robert Strand said most of the protesters appeared to be from Detroit Lakes and the White Earth area.
“I just hope they stay peaceful,” he said.
With recent rioting and looting in Fargo and the Twin Cities, downtown business owners in Detroit Lakes are nervous for their stores, and Strand said “I don’t blame them. “They have to deal with COVID-19, now they have to deal with this -- it’s unnerving.”
But he also said police officers in this area are as appalled as everyone else at Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who choked him over a period of about 8 minutes with a knee to the neck.
“I don’t think you’ll find a cop that will defend his actions at all,” Strand said. “I’ve been doing this for 21 years and I have yet to see that tactic taught at any use-of-force training I’ve been at.”
Strand said all Detroit Lakes police officers and Becker County sheriff’s officers were on duty Sunday evening, and other agencies were ready to provide support if needed.
The demonstration ended peacefully at 9 p.m., after a 9-minute silence by protesters who sat or kneeled, some with fists in the air, in honor of the 9 minutes that Floyd was pinned to the ground by Minneapolis police before his death.
Tribune Editor J.J. Perry contributed to this report.