Duluth City Council approves police riot gear

On Monday Oct. 22, Duluth City Council Members approved the purchase of riot gear for the Duluth Police Department. Before the approval, protests, both reportedly peaceful and hostile, ensued on campus and at the Duluth City Hall in the City Council Chamber.

Mid-Monday morning UMD students protested peacefully by marching through campus and speaking on the topic at the Garage in the Kirby Student Center.

UMD students protest peacefully at the garage in the Kirby Student Center. Photo by Zack Benz

UMD students protest peacefully at the garage in the Kirby Student Center. Photo by Zack Benz

Students held signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Keep Duluth Riot Gear Free” as speakers were introduced, speakers like Tyra Jaramillo who helped organize the UMD protest.

Jaramillo spoke of the City Council Meeting that was scheduled to take place later that night and asked students to attend. Jaramillo hoped having a youth population there would show that “[the youth are] really concerned about this issue.”

“It’s extremely important,” Jaramillo said at the UMD protest. “It’s something that we should all care about.”

Students for Justice, who helped orchestrate the on campus peaceful protest, welcomed students to speak freely and allowed them to express their opinions, many of which were rooted from racism and police brutality. People were hurt emotionally.

This same pain was expressed outside Duluth City Hall Monday evening as well. Numerous protesters gathered at the Duluth Civic Center on West First Street displaying their signs against the riot gear to passing motorists. One outside peaceful protester was Duluthian Doris Malkmus.

“I work for Loaves and Fishes Catholic Worker House,” Malkmus said. “We provide housing for homeless people. We’re based on the idea that we can build communities, and we’ve done a lot of community building with the police.”

Malkmus stated that the Duluth Police have come a long way from being “antagonistic” and said they are more like partners with people who are homeless.

Doris Malkmus said she was saddened by the thought of Duluth purchasing riot gear. She worries that it will break the bonds the Police have been building in the community for years. Photo by Brianna Taggart

Doris Malkmus said she was saddened by the thought of Duluth purchasing riot gear. She worries that it will break the bonds the Police have been building in the community for years. Photo by Brianna Taggart

According to Malkmus, the police department has hired someone who keeps tabs on about 116 homeless people in the community every night.

“We really are friends of the police,” Malkmus said. “We think that they're throwing away a lot of the bonds that they’ve built by buying riot gear. It just feels like there’s that subtle militarization.”

As the six-o'clock hour approached, many protesters made their way into City Hall to display their signs to City Council Members.  

Concerned citizens all filed into the chamber prepared to make their cases for or against the purchase of riot gear as Council Members conducted their Finance Committee meeting. Midway through the meeting, a bullhorn sounded from the outside hallway startling most in the chamber. This alarm was the beginning of what some called a “violent protest.”

The masked protestors approached the city councilors while chanting “No line three! No riot gear for the DPD!” and stated that they’ve rebelled against the idea of riot gear before but the councilors chose to ignore them.

“We’ve been here eight times,” one of the masked protesters said. “You haven’t been listening.”

City Council Member Zack Filipovich asked them to wait twenty minutes until their Finance Committee meeting adjourned and was ignored. After multiple attempts, Filipovich passed the floor to council member Joel Sipress.

Sipress thanked Filipovich before motioning to adjourn the financial meeting, all while protesters continuously chanted “No line three! No riot gear for the DPD!”

The chants continued to reverberate of the chamber walls as the motion to adjourn was accepted. Then a new chant was included, “Shut it down!”

In saying this, the protesters hoped to prevent City Council Members from meeting.

“They’ve had how many of these meetings,” the masked protester who originally interrupted the city council said. “How many of you have spoken at these meetings and asked them not to go over this riot gear? They are militarizing the police. They’re militarizing the police and indigenous communities, people of color, low income communities and we’ve had enough! We’ve had enough! No means no. No line three. No riot gear for the DPD.”

The same masked protester also stated that the militarization of our police will not make us any safer.

The protests continued for about twenty minutes until the city council members returned to conduct their meeting, which was slated for seven p.m. Protesters then moved behind city council members who operated their meeting over the chants by shouting into their microphones. The once quiet room had erupted into an arena of vocals.

City Council Members from left to right; Gary Anderson, Zack Filipovich, Arik Forsman, Jay Fosle, Noah Hobbs, Barb Russ, Joel Sipress, Renee Van Nett and Em Westerlund. The City Council remained unwavered as protestors shouted all around them. Photo by Brianna Taggart

City Council Members from left to right; Gary Anderson, Zack Filipovich, Arik Forsman, Jay Fosle, Noah Hobbs, Barb Russ, Joel Sipress, Renee Van Nett and Em Westerlund. The City Council remained unwavered as protestors shouted all around them. Photo by Brianna Taggart

At the same time a Blue Lives Matter protester walked through the room displaying their movements flag as the protesters responded by exclaiming “Blue lives murder!”

Jaramillo stated that the peaceful protest held at UMD was to show that college students cared.

“We wanted to have our voices heard,” Jaramillo said.

According Jaramillo, students just chose to attend the City Hall protest thinking it would be another peaceful way to express their voice. Students for Justice didn't organize the protest at City Hall.

“We’re here for the city council meeting,” Jaramillo said. “We’re here to have our voices heard again.”

Jaramillo stated that she agreed with the sentiment, when talking about the City Council Chamber protest but expressed disappointment in the implementation.  

Tyra Jaramillo stated that the best way for people to use their voice is by going to the ballots to vote, just be educated. Photo by Brianna Taggart

Tyra Jaramillo stated that the best way for people to use their voice is by going to the ballots to vote, just be educated. Photo by Brianna Taggart

“The way they’re going about it, the way that they’re disrupting a city council meeting, isn't the way that I believe we should go,” Jaramillo said. “I believe we should be peaceful. They're disproving what we’re trying to prove, which is Duluth is not violent.”

Jaramillo mentioned that Duluth hasn't had a real riot in nearly 100 years and questioned why the city needed gear now.

“We were not given any information about this because they wanted to pass it silently,” Jaramillo said. “They wanted to pass it without letting any of us know.”

According to Jaramillo, the best way to have your voice heard is to get out and vote.

“Do your research because right now the city isn’t telling us anything,” Jaramillo said. “In their minds, they’ve already purchased the riot gear.”

Jaramillo stated these protests are less for changing the council’s minds, “which is difficult to do,” but more to show who will be voting and who the city council will be representing.

According to an article published by the Duluth News Tribune, the Duluth Police Department plans on purchasing around $83,700 worth of riot gear and another $41,500 worth in 2019.

The riot gear the police are looking to purchase include helmets, leg and knee pads, chest protectors, elbow pads and other protective equipment.

Despite all the protests, the motion to approve the purchase of the riot gear was approved six to two, with Gary Anderson and Joel Sipress in the minority.

We reached out to City Council Member Zack Filipovich for a statement but he would not give a comment.

This is a developing story.