Saturday night was quiet in the Grand Cities, but East Grand Forks police were ready for it to get louder.
The East Grand Forks Police Department had extra officers on the clock that evening as demonstrators staged a peaceful candlelight vigil to commemorate George Floyd, the black man who died a week ago at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, and Cody Holte, a Grand Forks Police Department officer who was killed assisting Grand Forks County sheriff’s deputies who came under fire as they tried to evict a man from a Grand Forks apartment.
The department typically has five officers on duty on a Saturday night, according to Chief Mike Hedlund, who declined to say how many additional officers were at the ready on Saturday, May 30.
“We observed from a distance. We let them have their event, and they were awesome,” Hedlund told the Herald on Monday. “I wish every protest, vigil, whatever -- I wish every one like that across the country would be this way.”
It’s unclear if the same was true in Grand Forks, where a police department spokesperson said staff there were too busy planning Holte’s funeral to say how many officers were on duty on Saturday. Some of the department’s officers also headed to Fargo to help police there subdue demonstrators, but Lt. Derik Zimmel said he didn’t know how many officers did so, when they left or when they got back.
Back across the Red River, Hedlund said a pair of East Grand Forks police officers volunteered to head to Bemidji, Minn., where city leaders had requested immediate assistance from nearby police outfits. A daytime demonstration there was peaceful, save for a brief scuffle over a police truck -- and groups of white vigilantes patrolled the area after dark. Mayor Rita Albrecht insisted that the city did not request or condone vigilantes.
Hedlund said he was worried the officers heading to Bemidji might have left East Grand Forks short-handed over the weekend, if trouble did arise.
“But Bemidji, at the time, was requesting emergency assistance,” he said. “And we felt it was appropriate that we respond to that.”
Two other Eastside police are also members of the state’s National Guard, which was deployed en masse to the Twin Cities as sometimes-violent demonstrations there endured. Hedlund said one is heading back home and the other is still there.
The vigil on Saturday, which was held outside East Grand Forks City Hall, was the only demonstration in the Grand Cities, and it was marked by emotionally raw and occasionally loud speeches about racial tension here and throughout the United States, but, aside from the occasional heckle from passersby, it was peaceful.
Rumors occasionally spread through Grand Forks-area Facebook pages that additional and, perhaps, more violent demonstrations were forming or about to form after the peaceful one on Saturday.
One poster on Sunday said protesters were beginning to assemble on the downtown end of University Avenue, for instance, but the only noticeable assembly there was Central High School’s graduation ceremony. Police were stationed in that area to manage traffic around the ceremony said they’d heard of no demonstrations that day.