- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2020

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A memorial to George Floyd that was billed as a celebration and not a protest stayed true to form in North Dakota’s largest city on Friday, ending with event organizers and a Fargo police officer hugging and standing arm-in-arm to the song “Lean On Me.”

Hundreds of people attended the event despite lingering social media threats of plans to burn down City Hall, which was supposed to be the final destination for a sit-in. Instead, organizers agreed to stay at a downtown park for speeches, live music and dancing.

Local Black Lives Matter chapter leader Joseph Lewis, who opened the two-hour rally by urging the crowd to continue the conversation about race relations and demand social justice for Floyd, said afterward that Fargo police Sgt. Cristie Jacobsen’s presence during the encore showed good-faith efforts of both sides to address injustice.

Lewis also compared it to a game of football, Fargo’s favorite sport as the home to perennial national champions North Dakota State University.

“This is just the first first down. We still have 90 yards to go,” Lewis told The Associated Press. “This is an initial step to having a dialogue with our political leaders and our community. Our fight for Black Lives Matter is one of systemic change.”



Lewis and other black leaders spent two days this week meeting with Fargo police as well as officials from Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, a metropolitan area of about 230,000 people. Among the topics discussed were what Jamaal Abegaz, a member of the Red River Valley Democratic Socialists of America, labeled Friday as a “working list of demands.”

That list included creating local police oversight boards that would not include law enforcement, requiring mandatory cultural diversity training for officers, stopping surveillance of activists, and ending the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other methods to “terrorize protesters,” Abegaz said. The last point drew the largest round of applause.

Both North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who called the threats to City Hall credible, ordered National Guard troops to help protect buildings in Fargo and Moorhead over the weekend. Concrete barriers were placed in front of Fargo City Hall and several businesses - as well as the main Fargo police station - boarded up windows as a precaution.

Meanwhile, several Fargo police officers led by Chief Dave Todd were scattered around Island Park. They honored the request by organizers to leave their riot gear and shields behind. The Police Department in a tweet thanked everyone for attending a “wonderful” event and reported no incidents.

Philome ran into the crowd and escorted Jacobsen onto the steps of the Island Park gazebo as the event drew to a close.

“I have a firm belief in this life that when you achieve new height, it either becomes your ceiling or it becomes your floor,” Philome said. “Today is a new height in not just Fargo, but North Dakota, the place that I’ve called home for the last 14 years. So my question is, will today be North Dakota’s ceiling, or will today become North Dakota’s floor?”

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