The DFL caucus in Ward 6 Precinct 3 has a unique distinction among Minneapolis’ 119 gatherings Tuesday night: It’s the only one shut down by the authorities.
The caucus at the Brian Coyle Center in Cedar-Riverside produced an overflow crowd of more than 300, a pre-caucus argument handled by the police and a subsequent physical attack on one of the participants.
Eventually, staff from the Coyle center decided to shut down the event, and police quickly dispersed the crowd.
Emotions had been running high more than an hour before the scheduled 7 p.m. start and escalated even more by caucus time in the Cedar-Riverside Somali stronghold.
The cause of the uproar was the strong feelings among backers of longtime Rep. Phyllis Kahn and her challenger, Minneapolis School Board Member Mohamud Noor, who has strong support in the Somali community.
A large number of Noor supporters had congregated at the community building more than an hour early. Shortly after, an argument over procedures broke out between the Kahn and Noor supporters.
Staff at the center called in the police, and it looked like the argument had died down, but tensions lingered after the authorities left the room.
The Kahn campaign remained concerned that Noor supporters from outside the precinct – and even the city — would show up to support his bid. Their concerns proved accurate in at least one case, when four Noor supporters from Brooklyn Park were turned away.
The crush of people, at least 300, raised fire concerns, caused huge lines to get into the caucus and forced party staff to hold back attendees from clogging the registration area.
While nearly every attendee waved Noor campaign material, there were several Somalis on hand who were supporting Kahn.
When another argument broke out, police re-entered the meeting.
Less than hour after its start, authorities shut down the proceedings, forcing everyone out of the building before any of the precinct’s 43 delegates could be chosen.
Afterward, it was explained that the argument concerned representatives of the opposing camps who were competing to chair the caucus. That dispute eventually led to the physical attack.
A shaken Zamzam Ali, a Noor supporter, said she received more votes than Mohamed Jama, who supports Kahn.
Just before the event was shut down, Jama climbed atop a table and started chanting his initials. Members of the crowd, who gathered in the front of the gym, joined in.
“I have nothing else to say because I can’t even talk,” said Ali, standing with friends outside of the gym a short time later. “I’m speechless.”
Kahn was on hand for part of the caucus and had hoped to address the participants, but she never got the chance. The clearly uncomfortable veteran Democrat spoke cordially with district Democrats as the high-passion arguments raged.
“Emotions do run so high, so, you know, I can’t comment on that,” Kahn said of the conflict between her camp and Noor’s supporters.
Police had already calmed the excited crowd once before shouts of “MJ! MJ! MJ!” overtook the gym, but then the event turned violent.
Ilhan Omar, a staffer for Minneapolis Council Member Andrew Johnson and vice chair of the Senate district, was attacked by a group of about five people. Then a Noor supporter launched herself into the fray and was eventually shoved into a police officer’s grasp.
Police dragged the woman out of the building and handcuffed her, but eventually let her free. Omar escaped without serious injuries.
“I took a lot of punches to the head so I can’t really remember who was hitting me,” Omar said on Wednesday morning of the attack, which left her with a bloodied lip. “I was trying to get my face not scratched off.”
“The first one hurt really bad. I could not see for a good couple of seconds,” she added.
Omar said she had asked the DFL to send an outside observer to the meeting before it began because she anticipated problems.
“The police moved folks out on the demand of the facilities folks.” said Corey Day, executive director of the state DFL, who had worked to mediate the competing camps throughout the night. “We’re going to have to talk about it and figure out how to reconcile this precinct.”
Day said at the time that it’s unclear how things will move forward.
Wednesday morning, however, DFL officials announced that they would reconvene the caucus.
“I’m told some caucus participants felt threatened at this meeting and were concerned for their safety,” DFL Chairman Ken Martin said. “While we appreciate people are passionate about the political process, the DFL does not condone violence or threats of any kind.”
“The state Party will work closely with the Senate District 60 executive committee to find a new date, time and location for this precinct caucus,” he said. “We want to ensure the precinct has delegates at the Senate District Convention and to preserve the integrity of the precinct caucus process.”
A calmer gathering
A short hop away in the shadow of Prospect Park’s Witch’s Hat, activist DFLers hadn’t heard of the blowout. In Ward 2, Precinct 5, about 50 participants with relative ease elected delegates to the district convention and agreed on policy resolutions for the party platform.
They voted to support a $10.10 minimum wage, to restrict a tar-sand oil pipeline in Minnesota, and for wintertime parking restrictions in Minneapolis, among other resolutions.
Precinct Chairman Harrison Nelson said he was proud to say the caucus had a large group of Somali-Americans for the first time, and that both Noor and Kahn had attended the meeting.
“We never have average caucuses in this precinct,” Nelson said. “It’s always wild.”
When told about the shutdown caucuses across the river, he added: “It’s never that wild.”