MINNEAPOLIS — Protesters demanding justice for a black man fatally shot by Minneapolis police were settling in for their ninth night of demonstrations when something just didn’t seem right.
Lingering in the crowd were four people who seemed out of place. They were asked to leave. Moments later, shots rang out about a block away.
“I really did think it was like firecrackers or something initially because it was so loud and there was like this acrid smell,” protester Jie Wronski-Riley said. “I thought, ‘Surely, they are not shooting at us.'”
Then Wronski-Riley heard the cries of wounded people on the ground. “I really understood the danger we were in and what had happened.”
Police say five people were shot in the attack, which unfolded late Monday near a police precinct where dozens of protesters have been camped out since the Nov. 15 fatal shooting of Jamar Clark. None suffered life-threatening wounds.
On Tuesday, authorities arrested two men — one 23-year-old white man and one 32-year-old Hispanic man — and said they were seeking additional suspects.
According to police, Clark was shot after he struggled with officers. But some people who said they saw the shooting said the 24-year-old was handcuffed.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said it will be up to a grand jury to decide whether to bring charges against officers in Clark’s death.
Freeman issued a statement Tuesday after repeated requests by black activist groups to make the decision himself rather than go to a grand jury. Protesters have complained that grand juries are unlikely to indict police officers.
At least one member of Clark’s family asked Tuesday for the protests to end. But demonstrators said they would not be intimidated or “bow to fear.”
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack, but several racially disparaging comments had been posted on social media in recent days. One video showed a white man brandishing a gun while claiming to be on his way to the protests. Police issued a warning Friday night, asking demonstrators to be vigilant and report any suspicious behavior to authorities.
The protesters had a safety plan, and security team members had been asking people who looked like troublemakers to leave.
Fourteen people whom protesters believed to be white supremacists were kicked out of the area one night, said Mica Grimm, an organizer of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. She said they came in with their faces covered and filmed the crowd but would not talk to people. Some made racist comments.
Grimm said protesters had been threatened by one group online and had been working with hackers to figure out the group’s plans. On one night, Grimm said, online chatter included a post stating that a pie had been left at the protest site with rat poison.
“We made sure that all the pies were thrown out, and actually other food was thrown out for fear of contamination,” she said.
Grimm said concerns were brought up to police, but protesters felt the threats were not being taken seriously.
The situation escalated Monday night when members of the protesters’ security team approached three men and one woman who were standing under a “Justice4Jamar” sign and asked what they were doing.
“We’re here for Jamar,” one said, according to Henry Habu, who had been providing security for the demonstrators.
Habu said he and others tried to escort the four away from the protest and they took off running. He and others said at least three members of the group were wearing masks that covered the lower half of their faces.
Alexander Dewan Apprentice Clark, who said he chased the attackers, said one of the men fell and when Clark helped him up, he felt what he believed to be a bulletproof vest under the man’s clothing.
Wronski-Riley, who is also on the security team, said most of the crowd stopped following the men about midway up the street, but a few protesters gave chase. Wronski-Riley and a friend followed to make sure everyone came back safe. After running about another half block, the suspects started shooting.
“It was so busy and chaotic,” Wronski-Riley said.
One wounded man had been shot in the back of the leg and was crawling in the street, Wronski-Riley said. Another, who had been shot in the arm, was yelling that his limb was numb and he needed help.
Some protesters criticized the police response time and said officers arrived in full riot gear. Officers aggressively pushed back on the crowd, Wronski-Riley said, at one point using a chemical irritant to keep people back.
“They can’t kill the sense of community that I’m building,” Wronski-Riley said. “And they can’t stop us from making sure that black lives do matter.”
Police did not answer questions about their response to the shootings or about their response to prior reports of suspicious behavior.
Wesley Martin was among those shot. A day later, he was back at the scene, walking with a cane after being hit in the left leg and treated at a hospital.
He said his 19-year-old brother, Tevin, was wounded in the stomach and was in intensive care but was expected to recover.
Asked why he came back after being shot, Martin said: “Bullets aren’t going to stop me from supporting what I want to do anyway.”