AUDIO: Tensions high across the state, nation and Bemidji area after death of George Floyd

Featured photo from Saturday’s demonstration in downtown Bemidji.

The aftermath of the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody has sent many across the state, nation and even the world, to demonstrate, and while many of these demonstrations against police brutality have been peaceful, there have been numerous instances of looting, rioting and arson.

Many believe, even locally, that these peaceful demonstrations are being infiltrated by outside groups that wish to cause chaos and destruction.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed charges earlier this week against an Illinois man accused of traveling to Minnesota to riot and possessing explosive devices.

The metro area has been under a nightly curfew for over a week, and Bemidji even had its own two-night curfew May 30-31, after law enforcement say they received a credible threat of violence Saturday.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht discussed some of the points in the statement she issued Sunday during an interview Thursday evening.

“Many in our community are dealing with grief, and all of us are dealing with these changes to our normal lives because of  COVID,” she said.

“Sometimes, under stress, we can jump to conclusions about the actions or comments of others, and sometimes they can be inaccurate. I’ve tried to be clear in my communications, but I’m human, and always working to improve.”

Albrecht addressed an expectation of an apology for her previous statement. Albrecht also spoke on plans for this Saturday’s demonstration, organized by the Bemidji State University Black Student Union. That demonstration will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. at Paul Bunyan Park.

Interview with Mayor Albrecht below.

Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin issued a statement Thursday afternoon that related to an investigation into the allegations of curfew violations. Because the investigation is ongoing, data is currently confidential.

“I will release the findings as soon as they are available to the public, which is also outlined in MN statute § 13.82,” the release said.

“Those who know me recognize I have worked hard to build bridges and relationships between all members of our community. Moving forward, I plan to continue those efforts with listening sessions and the creation of a citizen advisory board. As these plans develop I will look to you, the Bemidji community, for participation and meaningful input.”

Earlier in the day, Mastin addressed some concerns during a Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce-hosted Zoom call.

Mastin first addressed what he called a conspiracy, surrounding reportedly accelerant- and debris- laden dumpsters in the downtown area, which were, according to reports, emptied before the curfew was enacted at 8 p.m. Saturday.

“Dumpsters are a target during a demonstration, they absolutely are,” he said. “They’re storage containers, and they destroy property, including yours.”

“The idea that someone is pushing this [conspiracy] for political games, shame on you,” he added.

Mastin also gave some ideas for business owners to protect their business, to reduce projectiles and to “notice things.”

Mastin, during the Zoom call, defended the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights, and also noted there was a clear division between the demonstrators who wanted to remain peaceful, versus those who were more “energized.”

Organizer Ernest Joseph Odegaard-Peltier III said Saturday’s demonstration was peaceful and tensions outside the LEC could have been avoided.

After the County Board meeting Tuesday, Beltrami County Sheriff Ernie Beitel spoke with concerned citizens who arrived to discuss allegations of curfew violations, and about the statement he issued Monday.

Gov. Tim Walz, earlier this week, announced an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department by the Department of Human Rights to look into policies and procedures to prevent racism. Minnesota Attorney General has charged the officer accused of killing Floyd with second degree murder, and all four officers were fired and are facing charges.

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