MOORHEAD — A woman was briefly arrested by police following a scuffle and heated protest during a private conference here about a controversial education theory that's become another dividing line in a growing culture war.
A physical altercation ensued the evening of Tuesday, June 15, after protesters spoke out as a conference speaker discussed opposition to critical race theory, a school of thought intended to address systemic racism.
The conference, with about 100 people in attendance at Moorhead's Courtyard by Marriott hotel, was organized by Center of the American Experiment. It was part of the Raise Our Standards tour "to counter the 'woke' political movement invading Minnesota’s public schools, turning them into ideological battlegrounds and threatening the quality of our children’s education."
Vanessa Renee Clark, 35, an activist and organizer with the Red River People Over Profits Initiative, was put in handcuffs after she and an elderly man briefly scuffled.
"I got arrested for ripping off an All Lives Matter button," Clark said. "I'm good."
Moorhead Police later reported that Clark was cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct and released from the scene. A report is being sent to the Moorhead City Attorney's Office for review of potential charges for others involved, Moorhead Police Sgt. Joe Brannan said in a press release.
"A private organization was conducting a conference and several individuals in attendance were being disruptive," Brannan said in the press release.
Faith Shields-Dixon, an organizer with Black Lives Matter of Fargo-Moorhead, attended the meeting. Toward the end of one of the speeches, Shields-Dixon began arguing with the speaker and started walking out of the room when the altercation occurred. She repeatedly asked police why the elderly man was not arrested, too.
"He kicked her, he came after me," Shields-Dixon told police officers. "Police were standing right there and they did nothing. He should be in handcuffs."
Opponents to critical race theory believe it is inherently racist and will lead to shaming white people as oppressors for the color of their skin.
Proponents of critical race theory believe racism is a social construct built into the American way of life to keep the current social hierarchy in place and say change is needed in the educational system. Minnesota, according to conference speakers, has begun implementing some practices that stem from critical race theory.
In North Dakota, several current Fargo Public School board members are facing a recall partly because an organization called ND Parents Against Distance Learning believes those members are trying to include some aspects of critical race theory into education.
The theory rose in the 1970s and 1980s to challenge the idea that in the decades since the Civil Rights Movement racial inequality had been solved and affirmative action is no longer necessary, according to Education Week.
In recent years, the theory has gained momentum due to protests against police shootings and ensuing calls for police reform, from increased public awareness about criminal justice policies and the legacy of the enslavement of African Americans, as well as discriminatory government-sanctioned housing policies called redlining.
Catrin Wigfall, the speaker for Center of the American Experiment's tour into Moorhead, was interrupted repeatedly when she brought up Martin Luther King Jr., whom she quoted during her speech.
"Critical race theory is not teaching that there was slavery in America, or Native American history, or redlining. These are all facts. Critical race theory puts a raced-based lens on everything," Wigfall said during her speech.
"He was a socialist," a person in the audience yelled about Martin Luther King Jr. before the disturbance began.
"Tribalism brings out the worst in individuals. We won’t address racism by treating people based on the color of their skin," Wigfall said shortly before the altercation occurred.
Bill Walsh, communications director for Center of the American Experiment, said an altercation has never occurred before during the organization's tour across the state.
"Those that left weren't interested in a challenging discussion or any exchange of ideas, which is what we're trying to do," Walsh said.
Kendall Qualls, president of Take Charge, an organization that is attempting to restore Black American families, also spoke in opposition to critical race theory during the conference. As an African American, he grew up in Harlem and pointed toward the lack of two-parent homes in the Black community as one of the major reasons for high school dropouts.
Qualls said Martin Luther King Jr. stressed the importance of a person's character over ethnicity.
"Critical race theory is all about the color of your skin. It was wrong then, and just because a cannon is pointed to a different ethnic group doesn’t make it right now," Qualls said during his speech.