A Case Study of the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis protests.
Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old young black man, was struck down and killed by a police officer's bullet in the darkened streets of North Minneapolis on November 15, 2015. Described by family and friends as a man who liked to swim, fish, listen to music, play basketball, be with family and take trips to Charlotte, North Carolina, he was unarmed — and some witnesses say handcuffed — at the time of the shooting. The police contend Clark was threatening an ambulance crew with violence and then invoked a physical altercation with police upon their arrival who were summoned to protect the Paramedics. Regardless, the result was another victim of violence lay dead in the streets of a major metropolitan city.
Almost immediately following the shooting supporters of Black Lives Matter (BLM) began protesting the killing. Tensions between BLM and the City of Minneapolis were high before this event and the death of Jamar Clark only exacerbated the distrust and ill feelings. BLM began shutting down highways, disrupting civil demonstrations and occupying the block outside of Minneapolis police 4th precinct with a makeshift tent city in protest.
Tensions between the BLM community and city officials reached a boiling point on November 17th after the Hennepin County Medical Examiner released their autopsy of Jamar Clark report; stating This individual died of a gunshot wound of the head. Manner of death is Homicide. The MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI are the investigating agencies. Shortly after the autopsy report was released, protesters began throwing rocks, bricks and Molotov cocktails at law enforcement officers defending the 4th precinct with BLM protest organizer Michael McDowell being quoted, Our city is not too far from burning like Baltimore because as the violence, disparities, and erasure of people of color grows, so will the people’s rage and desire for justice. For weeks, BLM protesters occupied blocks of North Minneapolis in a makeshift camp, complete with burning barrels, protests signs and security, in an attempt to shutdown the 4th precinct. Neighbors affected by the encampment complained about noise from low flying police helicopters, vandalism, trash, smoke, and blocked streets impacting emergency vehicle response (Fire, EMS, Police). Then, on Tuesday November 24th, four masked supremacists open fired and wounded five BLM activists in an apparent racist hate crime, hoping to escalate the violence.
By all accounts, Minneapolis was well on its way to becoming another Baltimore or Ferguson, Missouri, complete with riots, arsons and protests. So what happened? Why didn’t the tension overflow? Part of the reason is in the way that the city leaders of Minneapolis responded (or in many cases failed to respond to instigations). The tactic was simple, treat BLM much like negotiators treat barricaded suspects or suicidal persons. Give space, time and above all keep communications open and flowing. Specifically, there are five steps developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit that create The Behavioral Change Stairway Model that work for just about any type of disagreement:
- Active Listening: It’s important to pay attention to “their” side and also important to let “them” know you are listening.
2. Empathy: By exerting empathy you get a better understanding of how they feel and where they are coming from.
3. Rapport: If empathy is what you feel, then rapport begins when they feel it back. Trust is formed because effective communication is occurring.
4. Influence: When a person, in this case a group, can place limited trust in you, both sides have earned the right to work on the underlying problem(s) and begin problem solving through developing a course of action.
5. Behavioral change: They act (or don’t react) and a peaceful resolution is just around the corner.
The fact that Minneapolis did not have a complete meltdown and race war following the shooting of five BLM protestors by alleged white supremacists is testament to the hard, behind the scenes, work done between city leaders and BLM organizers. Think about this, BLM placed trust in the very same organization they were protesting against — the Minneapolis police — to provide protection and unbiased security. True to their words Minneapolis police delivered on their promises to keep demonstrators safe. Despite the reason for the protests (alleged improprieties and excessive force used by Minneapolis police), BLM and city leaders had established enough trust, rapport, empathy and influence to effect behavioral change; a change that resulted in a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
On December 3rd, the city of Minneapolis was able to remove the street encampment installed by community BLM members protesting the police shooting death of an unarmed man. No riots took place and within a couple of hours, the community had achieved a benchmark of success; peacefully resolving community protests and disobedience stemming from the untimely death of young black man. Jamar Clark’s life mattered, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter…All lives matter! Let Minneapolis be the benchmark of success; showcasing how a community and authorities may discover ways to peacefully resolve issues.