Frey, citing safety concerns, vows removal of Lake Street barriers, lays out protest response plan

"We can't have a major commercial corridor like this shut down," the mayor said.
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Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, citing the safety of the public and businesses as well as access to municipal services, said city staff - including Minneapolis police - will continue to remove makeshift barricades that go up in Uptown, and promised arrests for protestors who ignore dispersal orders Tuesday night.

"We don't want conflict. We don't want to inflict additional trauma on a community that has already experienced so much. We have prioritized de-escalation every single step of the way," he said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. "But we also need to acknowledge that the atmosphere, especially in the last couple of days, has substantially changed."

Frey's comments come amid ongoing demonstrations and recurring creation of makeshift barriers at the intersection at Lake Street and Girard Avenue - near the site of Winston Smith's killing, and where a motorist drove through a crowd Sunday night, killing a 31-year-old protestor.

Related: Loved ones identify woman killed in Uptown as Deona Marie Erickson

"This is a safety concern," Frey said of the road being blocked. "We can't have a major commercial corridor like this shut down. We can't have unauthorized closure of our streets, period."

On Tuesday morning, members of the city's police and public works departments took down blockades recently erected in the street by demonstrators. But new items quickly replaced those that had been removed.

Frey said these new barricades "will be removed," though would not reveal a timeframe. He also said there is a plan to prevent more barricades from going up again, though did not offer any details. But the response will involve public works and the Minneapolis Police Department.

"We are monitoring the situation and we have resources in place to be able to respond to any unsafe acts, especially acts of violence or major destruction," said Katie Blackwell, inspector of the 5th Precinct, which covers the Uptown area. She later described the situation at Lake and Girard as "taking over the streets" with "unsafe acts going on."

While reiterating his office's support for freedom of speech and peaceful, safe protests, the mayor said this type of "ongoing occupation" means the city has "an obligation to step in and say, 'No.'"

Frey said added law enforcement from regional partners would in the area Tuesday night, and laid out the plan under which officers would be operating.

"What will happen is, we will make clear to offer a dispersal order if anything goes beyond peaceful protest," Frey said. "Following the dispersal order we will give people time to leave. And if they don't, arrests will in fact be made."

Some critics of the mayor say he is too often focused on countering protests than addressing the reason protests are happening in his city.

The ongoing protest at Lake and Girard comes as details of Smith's killing by law enforcement agents remains shrouded in secrecy. State investigators say no bodycam or surveillance footage of the shooting exists. The deputies who fired the fatal shots won't be identified as they were working undercover for a U.S. Marshals task force. And attorneys for the woman in the car with Smith at the time of his shooting say she never saw a gun in the vehicle, as state investigators have claimed.

Minneapolis Council President Lisa Bender, who represents Ward 10, including Uptown, acknowledged the "incomplete and inconsistent information" coming from state and federal agencies regarding Smiths' fatal shooting.

"We need answers about what happened and why from U.S. Marshals, and from the state BCA which is investigating," she said. "...I know that people are protesting in the streets because they want every member of our community to care about Winston Smith's life."

Related: Growing calls for transparency over law enforcement killing of Winston Smith

She also called on the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to provide updates on possible charges against the driver who plowed through the crowd Sunday night, killing Deona Marie Erickson, noting the "shortcomings" that currently exist as a result of "relying on a police-only system of safety."

"Sending police as the only mechanism to support safety after law enforcement harms or kills someone puts everyone, including law enforcement, in an impossible situation," she said. But the city right now has to "rely on the system we do have," she added.

Blackwell also acknowledged the potential impact the presence of MPD officers can have on a scene.

"We understand that when we show up sometimes, this uniform alone can escalate things," she said, emphasizing the department's attempts to stay back and let the Office of Violence Prevention stay at the fore. "But now it's time to start kind of moving this along, because people are taking over intersections and it's just so unsafe, as we've seen recently."

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