OneFargo rally organizers announce demands for local changes
FARGO — For the first time, protest organizers revealed a list of demands they made to Fargo-Moorhead mayors and police during a peaceful event on Friday, June 5, that followed a week of protesting, rioting and threats.
Jamaal Abegaz, a member of the Red River Valley Democratic Socialists of America, read the list aloud as a crowd of more than 1,000 people cheered in Island Park during the OneFargo rally.
The demands included:
Mayors Tim Mahoney of Fargo and Johnathan Judd of Moorhead were to publicly call for the arrests of the three Minneapolis police officers who stood by during the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody (The three were jailed Wednesday, June 3).
The creation of local police oversight boards with no law enforcement on the boards.
Equal representation on all local city boards to reflect the area's diversity, including health, education and public safety boards.
Increased education of police officers through mandatory cultural diversity training.
Improved psychological examinations of police officers.
For the cities of Fargo and Moorhead to actively help new Americans find needed resources.
End police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and less-than-lethal rounds to “terrorize protesters,” and instead to use nonviolent tactics, ones that respect the public’s right to protest, including those who use civil disobedience.
Stop surveiling activists in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
“This is only a first step” toward ending racism, Abegaz said. “This list is a working list and the beginning of a relationship with elected officials.”
Fargo-Moorhead leaders received the organizers' list of demands on Wednesday. Mahoney said the list included some policies the city of Fargo and police already have in place.
“They gave us a list of demands, and we said we’d work on them,” the mayor said.
Already, police officers have psychological tests and diversity training, he said.
“We got rules on the use of tear gas, and there are certain parameters. For instance, Saturday night we had stones and sticks and bricks being thrown at police, we will need to still have that as a last resort,” Mahoney said.
The use of tear gas against protesters and other issues are still under discussion, Mahoney said, “But we would be glad to sit and talk about that."
Before the rally, the windows of Fargo police headquarters were boarded up, and authorities said they were aware of "credible threats" of violence regarding the event.
The police presence at the rally was noticeable, but no officers wore riot gear or carried shields, just as Fargo Police Chief David Todd promised during a news conference on Thursday, June 4.
On Friday, many police officers walked through the crowd. One man was overheard telling a couple of officers: “We are praying for you.” A couple of other officers were handed flowers. The rally lasted over two hours with speeches, music and dance.
Todd estimated more than 1,000 people attended the event. No arrests were made, according to police.
The North Dakota Army National Guard arrived before the rally, placing soldiers by Fargo City Hall, area fire stations, the police station, the sheriff's station and the water treatment center. Their orders were to remain peaceful and assist law enforcement, according to a staff sergeant.
Unlike the May 30 riot that filled downtown with tear gas and the sounds of explosions, a sense of hope filled the park Friday afternoon.
Many people held up flowers, and took a knee when asked by organizers. People sang. Native Americans smudged a line of people as Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, and others spoke about the fight for equality.
Fargo City Commissioner John Strand said he hoped the day would be peaceful.
"The counter of fear is hope," Strand said. "We will bring people to the table, and we will listen, and we will learn from each other."
During the rally, Dennis Klicker wore a T-shirt with the words "unpaid agitator." He said he also joined the peaceful march on May 30.
Klicker didn’t support the ensuing riot on May 30, though he said, “putting an emphasis on property over people is doing this movement a disservice. If you think it’s not OK that buildings are getting looted, then it should blow your mind about what happens to black people all the time.”
Myra Digby, who's lived in Fargo for about seven years, attended the rally with her son. “I feel bad about (Floyd's) death," she said, "but I feel proud to be here."
Digby’s son, Timothy, said he was aware of the threats of violence, and appreciated the city taking precautions. “But I respect the people even more now if we can prove them wrong and keep this peaceful,” he said. “This is a start right here.”
Next to the Digby’s sat Randy Gust, a retired prison guard from Minnesota’s Stillwater Prison. He came to the event to show his respect for Floyd. “And to show that law enforcement can’t do what they want, especially to black men,” Gust said.
Pastor Joe Larson of St. Mark's Lutheran Church said he came to support the event with about 20 other clergy from various denominations.
"Sometimes we do have to speak out about hatred," Larson said. "People of faith have to stand up together and say racism is a social sin."