City Council Approves Riot Gear As Protesters Take Over Chambers
Disruptions Don't Stop Approval of Riot Gear Purchase
DULUTH, Minn.- After two tabled votes, and three community meetings involving the topic, the Duluth City Council voted 6 to 2 in favor of purchasing roughly $83,000 of riot gear for Police Officers.
Counselors Gary Anderson and Joel Sipress voted against the purchase. Em Westerlund was out of town for work.
Westerlund missed a city council meeting like no other.
About a dozen protesters took over Council Chambers, their faces covered in masks.
Their chants boomed through the chambers, from the beginning of the meeting, to the end.
“NO LINE THREE, NO RIOT GEAR FOR THE DPD!”
Chants calling for support to minorities.
“BLACK LIVES MATTER. NATIVE LIVES MATTER. LATINO LIVES MATTER. GAY LIVES MATTER. TRANS LIVES MATTER.”
Chants against Police brutality.
“HANDS UP, DON’T SHOOT. BAD COP, DON’T SHOOT.”
And chants rallying to end the meeting.
“SHUT IT DOWN, SHUT IT DOWN!”
Loud, and determined, they defied the order of the meeting. Going behind councilors with signs, as the council tried to start the meeting.
Despite the interference, councilors attempted to hold the meeting. Until one requested a recess.
They left for almost 25 minutes, while protesters continued to occupy the chamber.
Some even went as far as to sit in councilor’s seats.
It is actually against city code to interfere with public business, make loud noises, and conceal your identity in City Hall.
Yet, Duluth Police never came into the room.
Even as some members of the public engaged with the protesters, calling them to “show their face,” pulling down their signs, and filming them at close quarters, no officers stepped in.
Not all of the protesters were against the purchase. After the protesters passed the barrier, one woman stood defiantly waving her “blue lives matter” flag for the duration of the meeting, the recess, and the vote.
Some remained in the crowd with their signs, faces exposed, nevertheless chanting just as loud.
As Councilor Joel Sipress explained, the issue is a delicate one.
“It’s a really, really difficult issue,” he said in the hallway after the vote. “And one of the reasons it’s a difficult issue is that it looks really, really different depending on what perspective you look at it from.”
“Which is why it is so important for us to listen, really listen to each other.”
He voted against the purchase, citing lack of effective policy, and lack of appropriate community input.
“I’m calling on the mayor to take leadership in laying out a process for how we can work together, as a community.”
Mayor Emily Larson was not at tonight’s meeting, yet she has publicly backed Police Chief Mike Tusken’s request for the gear.
The Chief has stressed repeatedly that it’s needed, and that every major police department in the state has protective gear, except for Duluth.
He says the gear would only be used in very rare occasions, for large-scale threats to people or property.
Yet as the council voted yes, amid the passionate, unwavering roar of protesters, those opposed did not seem convinced by the Police Chief.
They seemed furious.
Those supporting the purchase of riot gear; however, seemed joyful.
As the councilors’ hands went up, so did the crowd’s cries of disbelief, and dismay, along with some cheers.
One enraged citizen stood up on his seat, shouting and pointing and accusatory finger at the councilors, as they briskly exited the chamber.
Two women applauded the resolution, broad smiles across their faces.
One young woman shot up out of her seat and pulled out a sign reading “Riot Gear is Not Welcome Here,” her body moving with her shouts.
One man exited the chamber after towering over a young protester and yelling: “Did you hear? They voted yes. GO HOME!”
And one pair of women, wearing pins for LGBTQ Equality, shouted for about 5 minutes, then sat with their heads on each other’s shoulders, tears welling in their eyes.
It seems that as of this meeting, Duluth will not be the same.