FARGO — Although law enforcement plans to leave their shields behind and protest organizers hope for a peaceful celebration Friday, June 5, at Island Park, fear and confusion, mixed with anger, is rampant.
Buildings were damaged and partially looted in downtown Fargo Saturday night hours after a peaceful protest, called Fargo Marches for George Floyd, ended. The protest was a call for policing reforms after Floyd’s death after a Minneapolis officer knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.
Black Lives Matter and protest organizers condemned the Fargo riot, but in the days following, protesters have been the subject of threatening messages on social media.
Mike Mason, the director of Magnitude Sports Media Network, warned he would commit a mass shooting even if it led to civil war on social media, and later apologized.
“If I’m in the news in a couple days because I did a mass shooting. Just know that I sacrificed my freedom for your safety,” Mason wrote on Saturday.
One protester, Francisco Lopez III, was hit by a car in West Fargo and he clung on to the hood for three blocks before jumping off, suffering broken bones, police said. Police arrested Teddy Anthony Mata Jr., 26, of Fresno, Calif., on charges that include carrying a concealed weapon during the riot.
Others have expressed a desire for vengeance, to run over more protesters and to swap out rubber bullets with live rounds, according to social media posts and protest organizers.
“Fargo get your guns out, it’s hunting season,” one person wrote during a live feed of the riot.
“It’s actually really, really scary,” said Anyiwei Maciek, an organizer of the Saturday protest. She condemned the riot and violence that came after the hours-long march that attracted more than 2,000 people, and is organizing another peaceful gathering at Island Park on Friday.
“They’re also threatening to come on Friday with guns and stuff like that and threatening to burn minority buildings. They’re saying they’re going to blame it on us,” Maciek said. "But to those people, I will say we love you. If you have never heard that word before, we are a people of love and peace."
Protest organizer Angelina Zokego said they expected hate and racist slurs would be coming, but still took on the responsibility because they wanted to bring about change.
Red River Valley Democratic Socialists of America members have also reported receiving personal death threats for participating in the daytime protest, specifically a “bullet to the head. A 9mm lobotomy,” according to one Facebook post.
Even the Fargo Police Department, which according to Police Chief David Todd takes online threats seriously, has been attacked on social media, spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker said.
“Let me scroll down through all the hate on our Facebook page,” Schindeldecker said. “The narrative started Saturday night that we disrupted a peaceful protest by using tear gas, and then someone alleged we were using it against children, because there were children in the crowd. You should be concerned about a child that was still there with their parents after receiving a lawful order. Never in a million years would I have imagined that people would have lost their mind over that. It makes me so sad about those children.”
The angst has spread across the state, and although more than a dozen people so far have been arrested on riot charges locally, other protests across the state have occurred without physical violence. In Bismarck, however, Nazi and confederate flags were spotted being waved by counter-protesters on June 2. Even the Hells Angels revved their motorcycle engines drawing out chants as protesters marched.
Although the tear gas in downtown Fargo is gone, scars, in the forms of boarded-up windows, graffiti, and fear, remain. Already, the city has had at least two reports of white men openly carrying firearms since May 30. One instance was on May 30, the other on June 2 in downtown Fargo.
Anjali Karna, a nearly lifelong Fargo resident with Indian ancestry, reported to police on June 2 that a white man with a handgun tucked into his swimming shorts was circling her car and yelling at her. She lives downtown, and was checking in with a friend at the Gardner apartment building when the incident occurred around 5 p.m.
“I noticed the gun in the back of his swim shorts, and he was trying to talk to me but I couldn’t hear what he was saying,” Karna said.
“Eventually I heard him yell ‘get out,’ and he was gesturing at me and gesturing at the gun,” Karna said. “I’m brown, and you can tell when something is fueled by race. He was ranting at me. He looked commanding and angry.”
The gun wasn’t real, but “it looked real,” Karna said. “We just booked it two blocks east and I immediately called the cops.”
Karna said police told her the person’s identity, but because no charges were filed, the department could not release the suspect's name.
“The cop also asked me if I had done anything to provoke the man and I stated my ethnicity and that I have a ‘Resist’ bumper sticker. Then the police officer asked if I was in the ‘thick of it’ at the protest,” Karna said.
She marched with the protest, but did not participate in the nighttime riot, she said.
“It's such a scary time to be alive, especially when it feels like there's nothing you can do about the problem,” Karna said.
Fargo police did not arrest anyone in relation to the disturbance, but Jason Livingood said police have come knocking on his apartment door downtown, asking questions.
Livingood owns airsoft replicas of an AR-15 and a Glock 9mm handgun that look real but only shoot plastic pellets. The morning of May 30, he participated in the Fargo Marches for George Floyd protest, then went home. His life changed after the riot later that day.
He denied that he threatened anyone while carrying a replica handgun, but Livingood said he’s scared, and wants to move upstairs, out of his ground level apartment, after a burglary scare over the weekend.
“I don’t know if people are starting to lose it mentally,” said Livingood, who recently quit a job working at the Empire in downtown, and called himself a peaceful person. He has carried his airsoft handgun around town, but said he was in Island Park suntanning much of the day on June 2.
“I’m going to be 46 and this is the craziest thing I’ve seen in my life. Now I’m being harassed by police? And I’m carrying around a BB gun that isn’t even loaded. I’m street savvy, but I have to be careful, too. I don’t want to break the laws. My number one goal is to get this city back on its feet,” Livingood said.
During the May 30 riot, Livingood could smell the tear gas coming in from his windows. He dropped wet towels along cracks, but the chemicals still found a way in.
“I am scared. And I don’t scare often. The number one thing is empathy, and to walk away from the problem,” Livingood said. “It’s how you treat human beings, and I’ve always deescalated situations up until this time. The rules have changed forever, and we’re still going through COVID.”
Despite Karna’s scare, she planned to attend the June 5 protest that is now being held as a peaceful celebration.
Ritchell Aboah, an organizer of Fargo Marches for George Floyd who is also running for Fargo City Commission, said she has received three threats against her life.
“Honestly, it has kind of opened my eyes because people are not ready for this change even though it’s been over 400 years,” Aboah said. “But that’s the thing, the support is way more than the negative and I think that is what is giving us the sole purpose to do this.”
On Wednesday, June 3, protest organizers met with city leaders who promised to start making changes, Aboah said.
Protest organizer Wess Philome said they provided a list of demands, and that change will not come in a single day. They're working "intimately" with the Fargo Police Department to keep the rally peaceful Friday, June 5.