Minneapolis City Council Nomination Brawlers Could Be Expelled From Minnesota Democratic Party

Minneapolis City Council Nomination Brawlers Could Be Expelled From Minnesota Democratic Party
The seal of the City of Minneapolis is displayed during a city council meeting in Minneapolis on July 26, 2017. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS—The Minnesota Democratic Party will consider expelling anyone involved in a brawl that broke out at a political event to nominate candidates for a Minneapolis City Council seat.

At least two people were injured in Saturday’s confrontation. The head of the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), Chair Ken Martin, said on Twitter that he plans to call an emergency meeting later this week to consider banning anyone involved in the assaults from the DFL Party, an affiliate of the national Democratic Party.

Video posted on social media showed the disturbance began after supporters of Minneapolis Council Member Aisha Chughtai took the stage, which caused an uproar among supporters of her challenger, Nasri Warsame. Some Warsame supporters then jumped on stage, shouting, banging on tables and waving signs.

As supporters of both candidates pushed and shoved each other, a party official repeatedly banged a gavel and tried to quiet the crowd but was ignored.

“I was scared some of us might die,” said Bridget Siljander, who was on the stage with other Chughtai supporters when they saw people punching, shoving and pushing each other on the floor.

“It was complete chaos,” Siljander said, adding they were terrified the fight would turn into a stampede and that it felt—in the moment—like an insurrection. Siljander said those who incited the violence should be removed from the party and criminally charged.

Convention chair Sam Doten called the behavior embarrassing and adjourned the event without a nominee being chosen, saying it was no longer safe. It wasn’t immediately clear Sunday how the party would proceed with choosing a nominee.

Martin denounced the violence in a statement on Twitter and apologized to Chughtai and her supporters and staff.

“Harassment and violence are unacceptable, and we expect candidates and their campaign teams to work hard to curb such behavior when it comes from their supporters, staffers, or volunteers,” Martin said. “Warsame and his team took the opposite approach at today’s convention by escalating the situation and encouraging conflict.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also condemned the violence.

“The behavior we saw at yesterday’s Ward 10 convention was not okay. Physical intimidation, threats, and harassment have no place in our democracy or our politics—not at conventions, not at city council meetings,” Frey said on Twitter.

At least one person was treated at a hospital for injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening. A second person was treated at the scene.

Minneapolis police spokesman Brian Feintech said no arrests were made because officers didn’t see anyone fighting when they arrived and the crowd was already dispersing.

The scuffle reflects the polarization of politics, both across the country and in Minnesota, where the Democratic party is divided between far-left and moderate forces, said Hamline University political science professor David Schultz. Race and generational differences are also a factor, he said. Meanwhile, the longstanding political practices of conceding a loss and respecting differences of opinion are becoming a lost art.

“Politics has become almost a blood sport or fighting to the end, no matter what,” Schultz said.

The central Minneapolis city council district that Chughtai represents includes part of the popular Uptown neighborhood where Prince got his start and includes a mix of Victorian homes and more urban apartments.

Political blogger John Edwards, who posted the video on his Wedge Live site and social media, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune there may have been issues with translating earlier in the day that caused some confusion, and there had been disagreements on rules and procedures. Before Warsame’s supporters stormed the stage, Chughtai was getting ready to deliver the first speech of the convention. Warsame would have had the chance to speak next.

Chughtai said in a statement on her website that more than a dozen of her supporters and DFL volunteers were assaulted. She said Warsame delegates “charged the stage assaulting me and my supporters as I was about to begin my convention speech” and that her supporters had to lock themselves in a hospitality room to get away from the conflict.

“What happened at the Ward 10 DFL Convention today was horrifying, unacceptable, and indicative of the growing threat to progressive, pro-people candidates and movement leaders,” Chughtai said in the statement.

Warsame said in a Facebook post that his campaign manager was assaulted by a staff member of the Chughtai campaign. He later posted a picture of himself visiting an injured supporter in the hospital.

“Violence & unfairness have no place in democracy!!” Warsame said.

By Josh Funk and Trisha Ahmed