MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Civil rights leaders appealed Thursday for Minneapolis police to exercise restraint but the head of the police union said officers should get tougher with protesters after a night of tense confrontations over the fatal shooting of a black man by an officer.
The contrasting responses showed the strong emotion surrounding the incident four days after Jamar Clark, 24, was shot in the head during a confrontation with two officers.
Police said he was a suspect in an assault and was interfering with paramedics trying to treat the victim. The state agency investigating the shooting, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is looking into claims that Clark was handcuffed. The head of the Minneapolis police union said Thursday that Clark had his hands on an officer's gun. Authorities have said no other weapons were found at the scene.
Police used a chemical irritant against protesters Wednesday night outside a north Minneapolis police station where demonstrators have gathered since the shooting.
The public response Thursday included a tweet from U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, whose son Jeremiah was shown in a Star Tribune photo that also included an officer in the background pointing a gun at a crowd of protesters.
"Photo is agonizing for me to see. My son is PEACEFULLY protesting w/ hands up; officer is shouldering gun. Why?" tweeted Ellison, a Minneapolis Democrat who is black.
Police said the officer's weapon shown in the photo fired non-lethal rounds that could be used to mark law-breaking protesters with chalk. Police spokesman John Elder said the gun wasn't pointed at Jeremiah Ellison.
Chief Janee Harteau said Thursday that officers themselves had been hit with pepper spray, Molotov cocktails, bottles, rocks and bricks.
Harteau said police would pursue arrests where they had evidence, but Bob Kroll, the police union leader, said the department should be moving more forcefully, including removal of tents that some protesters have set up outside the north side's 4th Precinct.
"It's chaos," Kroll said. "The officers are worn down."
He added of the protesters: "They should not have been allowed to pitch one tent, set one fire, or block the entryway for one minute."
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said police need to back down.
"It shows a militarization of the police force in the city of Minneapolis," Levy-Pounds said.
A gathering Thursday night was more peaceful, the Star Tribune reported. Two men were arrested on preliminary charges of felony damage to property after profanities were found spray-painted on the precinct building, the police department tweeted.
The NAACP called for a candlelight vigil and march at the station starting at 4:30 p.m. Friday.