LYNNHURST — Several hundred students from Washburn and Southwest high schools walked out of class Tuesday and held a 90-minute rally against racism and police violence in Lynnhurst Park.
The student-led action took place in the hours before a major march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement set off from the Fourth Precinct for City Hall. The North Side precinct has been the focus of demonstrations since shortly after the shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark during a Nov. 15 confrontation with police.
Washburn students started streaming out of their school building at about 1:30 p.m., forming a circle around Bella Dawson, a sophomore, who emphasized that the rally would be nonviolent.
“Today we are going to show everyone we are not going to stoop to the level of violence like cops with guns,” Dawson said. “… Let’s show these police, show these politicians what we youth are made of.”
Waiting to join the march down West 50th Street to Lynnhurst Park were about fifteen DeLaSalle High School students who walked off their campus on Nicollet Island. Amal Flower Kay, a sophomore, said the issues being raised by Black Lives Matters activists were hardly being discussed in the classroom.
“DeLaSalle is very close to the Fourth Precinct, and there hasn’t been enough talk at all” in school, Flower Kay said.
Both Flower Kay and DeLaSalle senior Chloe Zachary said they aimed to bring attention to educational disparities, as well. Zachary said their review of the school’s demographics showed the student body was about 40 percent students of color, but just 13 percent of staff members were non-white. Flower Kay said students of color appeared to be disciplined more harshly than their white classmates.
“People of color see these things happening to each other every day in school,” he said.
Soon, three students carrying a “Black Lives Matter” banner led a group of about 60 of their peers in a brisk march toward Lynnhurst Park. Two Minneapolis police vehicles escorted the march, diverting traffic along the way.
About 20 minutes after they arrived, a much larger group of Southwest students marched into the park from the opposite direction. Collin Robinson, a lead organizer of the rally and Southwest sophomore, used a bullhorn to address the crowd of students
“It’s extremely, extremely important that all races come together to fight this fight,” Robinson said.
A North Side resident who lives just three blocks from the Fourth Precinct headquarters, Robinson said students needed “a place to digest what happened” in the aftermath of the Clark shooting and more opportunities to discuss the issues amongst themselves. Those conversations “are not being had at all” in school, he said.
Abijah Archer, a Southwest senior, used his turn at the bullhorn to draw attention to segregation in Twin Cities schools, the subject of a class action lawsuit recently filed against the state.
Archer noted he’d attended Lake Harriet Community School, a dual-campus school that enrolls more than 80 percent white students. Less than 10 percent of students at either campus qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
Archer said he’s now taking classes at the University of Minnesota and applying to Ivy League colleges. Those opportunities are less available to students who attend schools with concentrated poverty, he argued.
“A lot of the students on the North Side, if they had the same experience as me, they’d be in the same position,” he said.
Some students in the crowd said they would not speak with media. But Jovan Akinde, a Washburn junior, said the display of student solidarity against “injustice” should send a message.
“When youth get involved, our point gets out there to adults,” Akinde said.
Standing next to her was Ivonne Hernandez, also a junior at Washburn. Hernandez was taken aback by reports that police shot Clark in the head.
“Shooting someone in the head — I don’t know, it just doesn’t sound right to me,” she said.
Washburn senior Tim Chandler said he knew Clark from having previously lived on the North Side and had played basketball with him several times. Chandler, who has joined the demonstration outside the Fourth Precinct, said it seemed to him “our system is more and more corrupt.”
“We need justice for Jamar and all the black lives that have been taken,” he said.
Even as the students rallied, police were searching for five men suspected of shooting and wounding five Black Lives Matters demonstrators in a confrontation outside the Fourth Precinct on Monday night. Two men had been arrested, and officials were assessing whether the shooting could be considered a hate crime.
Chandler said he was committed to non-violent protest.
“If it gets violent, then more people lose their lives and it just becomes a big mess,” he said.
Rabbi Michael Latz of nearby Shir Tikvah synagogue watched as students gathered in a circle to listen to speeches and spoken word performances, occasionally breaking into chants popularized by Black Lives Matter protesters.
“I’m really proud of them,” Latz said. “It’s peaceful, it’s respectful, it’s courageous. … I’m very inspired.”
Minneapolis Public Schools sent an email Tuesday morning alerting parents that middle and high school students planned to walk out of classes and either join the rally at Lynnhurst or the ongoing protest at the Fourth Precinct. It stated that students who walked out of class would not be allowed to return that day.
“We respect the students (sic) right to peacefully assemble,” the email read. “We are providing opportunities for students to express themselves on school grounds.”
The email also noted that funeral services for Jamar Clark were scheduled for the following day, adding that counselors and support staff would be available for students and families Wednesday afternoon at the district’s headquarters building on West Broadway Avenue.
Several district staff members, including Associate Superintendent Paul Marietta, were in the park to watch the rally and did not intervene. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board employees also watched as the students gathered in a circle to listen to speeches and spoken-word performances.
“Marvelous,” Corky Wiseman, a Park Board employee said. “I’m proud of them.”
Student organizer Collin Robinson, a Southwest High School sophomore, addressed the rally through a bullhorn. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Washburn students chanted as they marched to Lynnhurst Park. Police escorted the march and stopped traffic. Photo by Dylan Thomas