Humboldt Avenue by daylight looks nothing like the chaotic battlefield it turns into after dark.
Cars and trucks speed down the wide suburban road in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. There are apartments, a church and a high school. And a police station.
The police station, now separated from the avenue by chain-link fencing, has been the focus of protests for five nights and counting, after an officer killed a black man last Sunday — just 13 miles north of where another former officer is on trial for killing a black man.
The death of Daunte Wright, 20, comes as Minneapolis is already bracing itself for a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin on charges that he murdered George Floyd last May. Floyd’s death set off protests for racial justice around the world.
“When I see it and I heard it, I said, ‘Not again’,” said Annette Combs, who works near Humboldt, of her reaction when she learned of Wright’s death.
After dark, the avenue is lit by floodlights. National Guard jeeps and armoured vehicles seal off access from the south. There is a cacophony of flash bangs, tear gas and rubber bullets from law enforcement, and fireworks from protesters. Police have arrested dozens for violating a curfew imposed by the city.
Pastor Simeon Momanyi has been in the middle of it, his house sandwiched between his church, Kenyan Community Seventh Day Adventist, and the police station. The past few days have been tough, for him and his flock.
“When George Floyd was killed, it was traumatic for many people,” he said. “It’s been a year, and people have almost started to get over it. There was a lot of demonstrations. [You think] police, when they interact with black people, people of colour, they will be careful. And then suddenly, again. Same city, same place. Something has happened again.”
Brooklyn Center, just north of Minneapolis, is a racially diverse, middle-class suburb of 31,000 with a large immigrant population. African grocery stores and restaurants dot the commercial strips. The median household income is $60,000, and many residents work in manufacturing.
At 63rd Avenue and Kathrene Drive, a block from where Wright was shot, the modest, one-story homes are lined with siding. Mourners have built a shrine to him there: a huge, skyward fist that echoes the one at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis. It is surrounded by banks of roses, lilies, daffodils and Gerbera daisies. Electric tea lights spell out “DAUNTE”.
“This is crazy, man,” one man said on Thursday afternoon. “Just a young king growing up.”
Max Madyun and Daniel Retic, students at Brooklyn Center High School, are just a few years younger than Wright. They protested on Thursday with their peers on the school’s athletic fields across the street from the police station. As young black men, they have both learned to alter their behaviour around police, moving slowly, and answering all questions.
“It sucks, but we want to live our lives,” Retic said.
“It’s like nature: I see a police officer, I got to do that,” Madyun added. “But then, you see things like this that make you think, ‘I shouldn’t have to do that. This isn’t normal.’”
In recent days, “normal” on Humboldt has set with the sun. Five yellow ServiceMaster vans for cleaning up fire and water damage were parked outside a Dollar Tree that was set on fire on Monday night.
Alhagie Njie manages his family’s grocery store, Value Foods African Market, a few doors down in the same shopping centre. He was worried that the fire would spread to their building.
Hakeem Miller lives in an apartment next to the shopping centre and across the street from the police station. He said he pushed furniture against the windows to keep his four children safe.
“It’s been mayhem,” he said. “My kids, they’re asking if we’re going to die.”
On Tuesday night, the temperature was below freezing, and the police had batons. The Minnesota State Patrol had begun sweeping northward on Humboldt, declaring on a loudspeaker that the protesters were violating the curfew and must disperse or face arrest.
Breanna Eaglefather has lost close friends to police violence. But the reason she went out to protest as soon as she heard the news, and then went out the next night, and the next, was her 10-year-old biracial son. She wants to protect him.
“I have a personal responsibility,” she said.
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