Guest Editorials, Opinion

A better response to protests, overall

State, county and city leaders faced a big test in the aftermath of the tragic killing of Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old man shot by former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly A. Potter Sunday.

Tensions were heightened because Wright’s death came during the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis last May.

Nights of rioting and looting followed Floyd’s killing, and that searing experience has resulted in a more effective — albeit still flawed — response to the protests that began last Sunday after Wright was shot and killed.

Credit Gov. Tim Walz, state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and local leaders who formed Operation Safety Net to better coordinate public safety efforts after last year’s rioting and leadership missteps. Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot needs the support of those agencies and should collaborate with their leaders.

Most protesters also have peacefully exercised their First Amendment rights in Brooklyn Center and notably with Floyd’s family in front of the Hennepin County Government Center, where Chauvin’s trial is taking place.

Not all have followed their lead, however. Some have turned violent, pelting those in uniform with bottles and other dangerous projectiles. Hundreds have ignored curfews and calls to disperse, and a few looted local retail establishments in Brooklyn Center.

Such actions ignore pleas from the Wright family to keep the focus on Daunte, and those behaviors detract from the legitimate message of ending the scourge of Black citizens being injured or killed in police encounters.

Violence also jeopardizes residents caught in the crossfire between protesters and law enforcement, particularly with the use of chemical agents such as tear gas — a tactic that Elliott has decried.

To his credit, Elliott stood up for another First Amendment guarantee: A free press. Journalists have the right and responsibility to report on the protests. That right was jeopardized Tuesday by an irresponsible call for media members to disperse. And some have been injured this week, including two from the Star Tribune.

State, county and local political leaders — as well as Minnesota National Guard leadership — need to unequivocally tell those responding to the protests that journalists, and more profoundly the First Amendment, need to be protected.

Amid the glare of the Chauvin trial, which is being covered by foreign and national correspondents, the international image of Minnesota is undergoing enduring damage.

No Minnesotan should want their cities to be seen as armed encampments, with National Guard forces joining law enforcement in cordoning off buildings and pushing back and ultimately arresting protesters. Nor should they want to see a repeat of the chaos of last May, which left literal and figurative scars on Minneapolis and St. Paul.

What the world will hopefully see going forward is an earnest attempt by authorities to allow for legitimate expression of First Amendment rights by peaceful protests and a free and unfettered press.

Violence from protesters and overreach by law enforcement will only serve to undercut that critical work.

This editorial  first appeared in the Star Tribune on Friday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.