Waiting for charges, protesters hold worship service

Published 9:53 am Monday, November 30, 2015

Hennepin County prosecutors have until noon today to charge four men connected with last week’s shootings near a protest camp outside the 4th Precinct police station in north Minneapolis.

The gunfire injured five black men who were protesting the police shooting death of Jamar Clark. Activists alleged the four men in police custody are “white supremacists” who came to cause trouble.

At a faith service Sunday at the camp, people of all races stood together against racial hatred.

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Using an upside-down trashcan as a podium, a minister led the crowd in song. Protesters of all races clasped one another’s mittens and sang, “I pray for you. You pray for me. I love you. I need you to survive. I won’t harm you.”

Ruth Mhanga of Apple Valley, who is white, joined in the singing with her husband, who is black. With their 1-year-old son Musa in a stroller, Mhanga said she believes it’s important for her toddler to be part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“When there’s important moments in history — and I feel like this is one of them — when he grows up, I want him to know we were a part of it,” she said. “We didn’t just sit at home and watch from afar, but we were active in our community and what’s happening, and he was, too.”

Mhanga said there’s comfort in praying with others, and finding healing in the wake of so much hate.

New details of last Monday’s shootings emerged last week in court. An application for a search warrant, filed Wednesday and published by the Star Tribune, revealed that one of the men in custody, Allen “Lance” Scarsella, 23, confessed to the shooting. According to the document, Scarsella, who is white, called a Mankato police officer he knew from high school and told the officer he had gone to the 4th Precinct to live-stream the protests.

MPR News doesn’t typically name suspects before they are charged, but the search warrant names Scarsella.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, a University of St. Thomas law professor who has helped lead the protests, said there’s a double standard at play.

“Can you imagine a situation where white Minnesotans were nonviolently, peacefully protesting and several armed black men showed up and white people got shot?” Levy-Pounds asked. “Don’t think for a second the charges wouldn’t have already been filed by now.”

Minneapolis police said Nathan Wayne Gustavsson and Daniel Thomas Macey turned themselves in. Officers also arrested Joseph Martin Backman. All of the men are white, except Macey, who is of Asian descent.

A video obtained and posted by Black Lives Matter days before the shooting shows two masked men using racial slurs and flashing a gun while talking about their plans to visit the protest. The driver, who bears a resemblance to a fifth man arrested but who was later released, closes by pointing at the camera and saying, “Stay white.”

Chris Hill, a cousin of Jamar Clark, said he approached a group of masked men right before the shooting broke out. “And I just asked them — ‘Who are you? Are you here for Jamar Clark?’” Hill said. “And they immediately got upset, like ‘We don’t have to tell you who we are. We’re not taking our masks off.’ They got aggressive with us.”

Hill said the men got into a confrontation with other demonstrators. A group started running after the men, but Hill said the group had stopped chasing them by the time the gunman opened fire.

“Everybody’s still standing here at the back of the alley,” Hill said. “And they just start shooting. It was like, ‘Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow!’ Like he was aiming.”

Henry Habu, another protester, said he saw one of the masked men fall to the ground during the scuffle, get up and start shooting. Minnesota’s self-defense law has a provision that requires someone facing threat to retreat, if possible, before responding with reasonable force.

The Rev. Danny Givens, Jr., an organizer with Black Lives Matter, said the men were looking to provoke and harm peaceful demonstrators. That’s not self-defense, he said.

“You come up here, armored up. Why do they wear bulletproof vests? Why do they have firearms in their vehicle? That suggests they came down here with the intent to destroy, to destruct,” Givens said.

But a friend of one of the suspects can’t reconcile that image with the man he grew up with.

Kyle Weber of Hibbing said he’s the best friend of Nathan Gustavsson, one of the four men in custody.

Weber was asked by a reporter to watch a six-minute video that appears to have been recorded by the shooting suspects before the altercation. In that group is a man sporting a red flannel jacket and scraggly facial hair. Weber said he has no doubt that is Gustavsson.

“I’m pretty upset,” he said. “It’s hard to accept; it’s not like him. It’s not who I grew up calling ‘brother.’”

Regardless of whether the four men are charged today, protesters said they will continue to camp out at the 4th Precinct, even as a winter storm approaches.