Response to August 31 Incident at Critical Mass
There was a significant incident at last Friday’s Critical Mass monthly group bicycle ride. Nineteen people were arrested, many more were pepper sprayed. The arrestees included an intern working for my office.
I have serious concerns about the police’s response on Friday, and am pushing for a formal review of both the specifics of the event and the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) plans for dealing with future nonviolent protests, especially during next year’s RNC convention.
My office will be organizing two separate meetings over the next few weeks. First, in conjunction with Council Member Lilligren’s office, we will convene a meeting between Critical Mass participants and Police Administration officials, to discuss what police policies could ease tensions and reduce confrontations at future Critical Mass events and nonviolent protests. Second, I will be inviting eyewitnesses of the incident to come and share firsthand experiences and concerns, and connect to City resources such as the Civilian Review Authority and the Civil Rights Department.
If you witnessed the event, I would like to hear from you. If you have video, audio or photographs of the event, please send them to the Civil Rights Department (673-3012), and if possible to my office as well (673-2202, firstname.lastname@example.org). If you have complaints against specific officers, even if you do not have badge numbers, contact either the Civilian Review Authority (673-5500) or the MPD’s Internal Affairs Unit (673-3074).
Here is some information I have received from the MPD about this incident:
- MPD officers requested that a State Patrol helicopter monitor the ride, even before the confrontation occurred.
- Unmarked squad cars from the MPD intelligence unit and Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department also monitored the event from the beginning.
- The MPD response to the event was not planned, and there was no incident supervisor. Officers reportedly responded to confrontational behavior by three Mass participants, and found themselves in a situation they could not control. They put out an “officer needs help,” call, which the Chief of Police has indicated is not the ideal response to this sort of event. Responding officers arrived without coordination, and, apparently afraid for the welfare of their fellow officers on site, reacted to the situation they found.
- There have been indications of police policy violations by some participating officers, even in the reports officers have filed on the incident. The Chief is analyzing these potential violations.
- Information from the incident, including squad car and helicopter video, will be made public after the investigations – both into the criminal complaints against participants and the policy violation complaints against officers – are complete. The Chief believes this will be available within several weeks.
- Officers were unaware that Critical Mass participants often hold their bicycles above their heads, and that this is not a threatening gesture but one of celebration and empowerment.
I have a number of unanswered questions and concerns about this incident that I expect to have answered over the next month or so:
- My office has heard from multiple eyewitnesses that there were two separate incidents, the first at La Salle and Grant, and the second at Nicollet and 24th. I am working to ascertain what the reason was for the second incident, and why there are no arrest addresses listed for any of Friday’s arrestees.
- Why did the police feel threatened at last month’s Critical Mass? Was it credible? What, if any, information did the police have that necessitated increased monitoring, why wasn’t there better planning and coordination done, and why was no incident supervisor assigned? My concern is that officers were potentially led to expect a more violent event than usual and were accordingly more on-edge and more likely to intervene, but lacked specific oversight that might have prevented a counterproductive intervention.
- What were the specific “threatening” or “confrontational” actions undertaken by the first arrestees? Did they make any credible threat of violence to people or property?
- I have heard from multiple eyewitnesses that some persons (including non-Critical Mass participants) were targeted for arrest, use of force and threats of arrest because they were recording the event with cameras, cell phones, and audio recording devices. How can we prevent this in the future?
- What can we learn from the other significant past confrontations between the MPD and Critical Mass, including an event last year on Hennepin Avenue, at which 3 participants were arrested, later to have their charges dismissed?
Lastly, my office is developing a list of ideas for policy improvements, from suggestions we have received from constituents and from the MPD itself. The goal of these policy improvements is to prevent unnecessary, counterproductive confrontations between MPD (and other) officers and nonviolent protestors, including Critical Mass. This is important not just from the standpoint of protecting civil liberties, but also for using our limited resources wisely and preventing unnecessary disruptions to non-participants.
- Place a supervisor in charge of the MPD presence at monthly Critical Mass rides. This officer’s role would be to help coordinate with other jurisdictions and order any MPD police interventions – and, more importantly, to prevent unnecessary and counterproductive interventions. This will provide a clear chain of command, which will help keep incidents from spiraling out of control. It will also provide those with concerns after incidents with a clear chain of accountability. The Chief has suggested this change, and I support it.
- Develop a clear set of guidelines for when police intervention is necessary, and prevent intervention when it is unnecessary, as it is so often counterproductive and escalatory. I believe that police intervention is necessary when individuals engage in violence against people or property, or disrupt traffic indefinitely.
- Clarify within the MPD’s Policies and Procedures Manual that officers are not to target those using recording equipment for arrest or use of force, confiscate or destroy recording equipment or recorded data, and establish disciplinary consequences for these behaviors. When officers attempt to prevent witnesses to police action from recording it, they not only violate those persons’ rights, but send the message that the MPD is unwilling to be held accountable for its actions. These actions of a few officers reflect badly on the MPD, and on the City as a whole.
- Specifically to Critical Mass, assign bicycle officers to monitor the situation. They have the capacity to navigate the crowd as a squad car cannot, participants tend to respond better to them, and they have been effective monitors in the past.
As concerned and disappointed as I am that these sort of incidents continue to occur, I am hopeful that the end result of last Friday’s confrontation at Critical Mass can help inform better MPD policies for dealing with nonviolent civil disobedience in the future, and will work towards this goal.