MINNEAPOLIS — On the heels of the recent high-profile police killings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, the Twin Cities has lost another black man at the hands of police. On the evening of Saturday, June 23, Thurman “Jun” Blevins was gunned down in an alley near 48th and Bryant Avenues in North Minneapolis, less than two minutes after police arrived on the scene.
Immediately following the shooting, Blevins’ family and local community filled the streets. Police tape criss-crossed the area and police stood almost arm to arm in places, facing the community, with their arms crossed across their chest. Witnesses stated that it appeared that hundreds of police officers were in the area.
In the video below, an eye witness gives his account and the chief of police addresses the community immediately following the shooting.
As discussed in the video above, at least one witness was taken from the scene in handcuffs in a squad car for questioning, causing outrage among the bystanders. The witness’ lawyer was prevented from reaching her after arriving on the scene.
Demetrius Pendleton captures the community’s reaction immediately following the shooting in the video below.
Within hours of the shooting death of Blevins, community members planned three separate events in response, including a protest at the annual Twin Cities Pride Parade taking place just a few miles from the location of the shooting; a gathering in front of the Minneapolis Police Fourth Precinct in North Minneapolis; and a vigil at the location of the shooting, also in North Minneapolis.
Dealing with the loss of a community member at the hands of the police is nothing new in the Twin Cities. Because of this, the community and activists mobilize quickly to rally around those affected and to make their voices heard.
The No Cops in Pride movement, which briefly disrupted the Twin Cities Pride Parade, made room for Blevins in the following video:
The scene was tense at the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct on Saturday during the planned emergency protest. Corporate media was repeatedly asked to step back and leave space for the community. Immediately next to the community speakers, the chief of police held a small press conference. Nekima Levy-Pounds, a local lawyer and activist who was a candidate in Minneapolis’ 2017 mayoral election, and other notable community members and activists were present and speaking.
On behalf of the community, Levy-Pounds and others listed immediate demands and requests including:
- A third-party investigation, originating from outside of the state of Minnesota. The community no longer trusts the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
- The names of the officers and their histories to be released. The name of the victim, his history and his photo have filled the media but the officers, at this point, remain anonymous. Under MN statute 13.82, Subd. 2, a list of information including “the identities of the agencies, units within the agencies and individual persons taking the action” “shall be public at all times.” (Their names have since been released.)
- The release of the officer’s body-cam footage. Legally the BCA can release body cam footage before an investigation is complete if they feel it is a benefit to the public.
- The end of witness detention. For example, the girlfriend of Philando Castile was unnecessarily detained for hours after witnessing his shooting death mere inches from herself and her daughter.
- A call for supporters and allies to begin a cop-watch campaign in black neighborhoods.
- A return of the Minneapolis Fourth Precinct building to its original purpose, a community center.
Unicorn Riot live-streamed the entire protest event on Facebook.
The several-hundred-strong emergency protest remained peaceful, with the community engaging in chants as the protest drew to a close.
The evening vigil began with a more noticeably tense tone. Blevins’ immediate community was, and continues to be, outraged. Concern was expressed that their reality may be used as a political prop or for an attendee’s own experience of an urban tragedy ran rampant, and at times it felt as though press outnumbered actual members of the community. Before long, however, there appeared the familiar faces of citizens and activists deeply invested in the betterment of the community as well as Blevins’ own family.
Room was made for family to speak of their experience and their loss; witnesses gave their testimony again, as they had many times that day; activists offered suggestions on how to stop the loss of life at the hands of police; and others spoke of their own experience losing their loved ones in similar situations.
In addition to a significant media presence, there was a large political presence at the vigil. Among the elected officials present were Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, U.S. Representatives Keith Ellison and Tim Walz, Minnesota House Representative Peggy Flanagan, Minneapolis City Council member Jeremiah Ellison, and others.
Mayor Frey was addressed repeatedly during the vigil while he was present, though he appeared more engaged with community members and familiar attendees than he was with the speakers and witnesses at the mic. Upon being addressed directly, Frey repeatedly did not look up from his conversation or engage with the crowd. He left the vigil not long after it began, as some in the crowd loudly yelled critiques in his direction.
John Thompson, friend of Philando Castile, shared a startling realization with the crowd when he said that he is every black man wanted by the police — that every description of a black man given fits every black man. He spoke these words in reference to his friend having been pulled over and then killed by police for fitting the description of the suspect in a recent robbery.
One activist shared a story in which the St. Paul Police Department, despite her over 20-year working relationship with them, had her admitted to a psychiatric ward after the department murdered her son. This same activist maintains that the community should not forge a relationship with police, highlighting that a positive relationship that never existed cannot be rebuilt.
A woman who lost her husband at the hands of St. Paul police offered her support to Blevins’ family and gave them a small glimpse into what they might expect to experience in the near future. She stressed that the family should not trust the BCA or its investigation.
Many speakers called for reforms within the Minneapolis Police Department, including requiring officers to live within the communities that they police. Others called for legislation requiring police officers to provide their own insurance, with the hopes that the most offensive officers would soon become uninsurable and therefore unable to work.
After nearly two hours of speakers, chants and support, those remaining joined together in song while encircling the very same intersection where Blevins last stood with his girlfriend as police approached the couple. With candles in hand and with tearful eyes, each member of the circle, one at a time, shouted out his name: Thurman Blevins.
The vigil in its entirety can be viewed here:
Conflicting reports about the shooting
According to local media reports, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) received a call at 5:26 p.m. regarding a man walking in an alley in the area of 4700 Bryant Ave North. According to reports on the scene, the caller provided little information. However, an MPD spokesperson now states that the initial caller «provided very detailed information about the appearance and descriptions.” A second caller reported a man firing a silver 9mm gun into the air and into the ground
Prior to the arrival of the first squad car, according to an eyewitness and the sister of Blevins’ girlfriend, Blevins had been outside with his girlfriend, a small child in a stroller, and a dog, on or near a residential intersection. While Blevins had been drinking from a cup and there was a clear bottle nearby, it is unclear whether he was intoxicated at the time.
According to the same eyewitness, police arrived on the scene at a high rate of speed, causing the witness to fear for his safety. The officers emerged from squad car 420 and prompted Blevins to get up. After the police said something about a gun, Blevins raised his hands in the air. He was then tased before running away, in which he fled in the opposite direction of the officers.
Minneapolis Police Union President Bob Kroll does not believe the officers deployed their tasers. Witnesses have stated that Blevins was not wearing a shirt at the time and was unarmed.
The first officers pursued on foot as Blevins fled, with three squad cars following close behind.
Witnesses say Blevins was shouting that he didn’t have anything as he ran. Officers soon fired anywhere from nine to 14 rounds in his direction. Witnesses say Blevins was shot in the back, less than two minutes after MPD arrived on scene. He died in an alley at 4746 Bryant Avenue North.
Robert Lang, a white resident who lives nearby and was outside at the time of the shooting, discovered Blevins’ body before officers caught up. He claims to have seen a black handgun near Blevins’ hand, which was then kicked away by an officer. However, witnesses to the initial altercation continue to insist Blevins was unarmed the entire time and yelling to officers that he did not have a gun. At least one witness goes so far as to claim a gun was placed near where Blevins fell to the ground.
The community’s demand for police and the BCA to release the body-cam footage is, in light of these conflicting accounts, thus integral to uncovering the truth about this major discrepancy of whether or not Blevins was armed and what color the handgun actually was. Many community members and critics of the police fear the officers involved will alter their narrative to fit the footage or that the footage itself may even be altered.
Despite this discrepancy, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, local police, and local media immediately claimed, and continue to claim, that Blevins was armed.
Frey said in a statement:
The facts that we currently have are limited. But here is what we know now: This afternoon there was an officer-involved shooting, during which a man was killed. The officers arrived on the scene in response to two 9-1-1 calls indicating that a man was firing a silver 9mm handgun. The victim was armed, and the case has been referred to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension [BCA] for investigation.”
According to a Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s report released Monday morning, Blevins was shot multiple times by police.
The above named individual died from multiple gunshot wounds. The manner of death is Homicide. The MN BCA is the investigating agency.”
At least one local news outlet obtained the 911 dispatch recording from Broadcastify. However, in their report including the dispatch viewable below, they claim that Blevins is, in fact, the man referenced in the 911 call when this has yet to be proven.
The video above from NBC affiliate KARE11 unnecessarily mentions Blevins’ previous record.
The Twin Cities community is no stranger to mourning and joining together to speak out against police violence and lives lost at the hands of officers. In the last few years, multiple high-profile police killings have plagued the community, including those of Jamar Clark in 2015, Philando Castile in 2016, and Justine Damond in 2017.
Saturday’s emergency protest at the Minneapolis Fourth Precinct was only blocks from the curb where Jamar Clark was killed in 2015. As many protesters made their way to the Fourth Precinct from the Twin Cities Pride Parade, they passed Clark’s memorial that still stands, almost three years after his death.
For some, standing on Plymouth Avenue in front of the precinct brought forth a flood of emotion. Mere feet from where Clark was killed, the community came together to occupy space immediately outside of the precinct for a full 18 days. During that time, the community endured infiltration by police, gunfire from white supremacists, cold temperatures and even snow. Tents were erected where protesters stayed the night; meals were served, fires were built, and donations streamed in to keep the occupation alive until it was bulldozed by city officials.
Where things stand
Blevins’ killing and the resulting outrage comes at a time when distrust for the police force and the BCA continue to grow. Less than two weeks ago, the Star Tribune broke a story revealing that it had become commonplace for Minneapolis police to request that EMTs administer ketamine, better known as the date-rape drug, to suspects, sometimes resulting in their hearts or breathing stopping.
The two officers involved in the shooting have been placed on standard administrative leave and the shooting remains under investigation by the Minnesota BCA. Two sources familiar with the investigation identified the officers as Justin Schmidt, hired by the department in July 2014, and Ryan Kelly, hired in October 2013. In an email to KARE11, the BCA said on Monday, «We will release the names of the officers once the initial interviews are completed.”
The Minneapolis City Council is unanimously calling for the release of police body-camera footage while Minneapolis Police Federation President Bob Kroll called the shooting an example of the «heroic» work done daily by Minneapolis officers. Community members maintain that shooting a fleeing person in the back is cowardly, not heroic, and that the police should no longer get away with being judge, jury, and executioner in the case of Blevins and every other needless loss of life.
Top Photo | The memorial to Thurman «Jun» Blevins grows during a vigil the night of Sunday, June 24, 2018 at the intersection where Blevins first encountered police before they shot and killed him. (Emma Fiala)
Emma Fiala is MPN’s Editorial Assistant and social media guru. She is also a documentary photographer, mom of two, and an independent journalist. Her stories have been featured on MintPress News, the Anti-Media, Media Roots, Zero Hedge, the Mind Unleashed and Steemit. Find her on Twitter.