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Minnesota Democrats set emergency meeting in response to melee at Minneapolis political convention

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Democratic leaders will convene an emergency meeting Thursday evening to respond to the chaos that broke out during a convention to endorse a candidate for a Minneapolis City Council race.

Video circulating on social media shows the disturbance Saturday after supporters of incumbent Aisha Chughtai took the stage to seek the delegates' backing for the Ward 10 council seat. That sparked an uproar among backers of her challenger, Nasri Warsame. Some jumped on stage, shouting, banging on tables and waving signs. At least two people were injured, and the convention broke up with no endorsement.

Ken Martin, chair of the state Democratic Party organization, tweeted that he would use the upcoming meeting to propose a bylaw change “to ban individuals engaged in violent assaults” from the party and “take immediate action to remove the folks involved in Ward 10.”

Martin also said in a separate statement late Saturday that it was “clear that the conflict was instigated" by Warsame supporters.

“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 ... by escalating the situation and encouraging conflict.”

Both candidates are Democrats in an overwhelmingly Democratic city when campaigns for party backing are often heated. Warsame, a political newcomer, is a Somali immigrant.

Chughtai is a longtime activist who managed U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar's 2018 campaign. She's the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and has support from some prominent Somali American politicians, including Omar and state Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, and other Muslims including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Some of their biggest differences are ideological. Chughtai has endorsements from a long list of progressive and labor groups, including the Democratic Socialists of America.

Warsame has campaigned on a law-and-order message, saying on his website that he’s “committed to reducing crime and addressing issues such as car theft, organized crime, human trafficking, and the opioid crisis,” while also “dedicated to working collaboratively with law enforcement to reform policing practices and address issues of racial bias and discrimination within the department.”

A sergeant-and-arms for the convention, Quentin Wathum-Ocama, said there was a lot of jeering as Chughtai and her supporters went on stage. At some point, he said, “a small number” of Warsame supporters started making their way to the front and scuffles broke out. One Warsame supporter was "particularly aggressive." At the same time, he said, some Warsame supporters tried their best to de-escalate the situation, but others tried to instigate trouble and it devolved into chaos.

The widely-seen video was shot by John Edwards, editor and publisher of the Wedge LIVE! local news website, named for the Wedge neighborhood in the ward. He was there as an uncommitted delegate. He said it was clear from early procedural votes that Chughtai had the 60% support she needed to win the endorsement, and that that appeared to leave Warsame's supporters frustrated.

Other factors appeared to be language barriers and unfamiliarity with the procedures, Edwards said. Many Warsame alternates could not get upgraded because the seats for their precincts were already filled with full-fledged delegates, he said.

Edwards compared the chaos to the kind of melee that can erupt at a sporting even where a couple people fight, and others join in with little thought.

“It seemed like there was a total lack of anybody from Warsame's campaign stepping in to settle people down as it was happening,” Edwards said. By the time Warsame got on stage and called for calm, he said, most people were already leaving.

The Chughtai campaign issued a statement denouncing the incident as “horrifying, unacceptable, and indicative of the growing threat to progressive, pro-people candidates and movement leaders.”

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. But the campaign said more than a dozen of her supporters or party volunteers were assaulted.

"The Warsame campaign punched multiple women of color on our campaign team, and shoved and harassed LGBTQIA2S+ delegates and supporters," the statement said.

Chughtai spokesman Akhi Menawat said Monday that the campaign had little to add to the statement, but he said he didn't think the dispute had anything to do with ethnicity or race.

Warsame said Sunday night he regretted “the unexpected and unfortunate events ,,, I do not condone violence and I do not condone yesterday’s events. The incident should have never happened. I apologize to those who were impacted, and I pray for all who were injured."

“One person who participated in the violence was a volunteer, not a member of my campaign staff," Warsame said in a statement. "This person was appropriately and immediately removed as a volunteer and should be permanently banned from any future conventions.”

Neither Warsame nor his campaign responded to messages seeking comment Monday.

Police said Sunday that they made no arrests because officers didn’t see anyone fighting when they arrived and the crowd was already dispersing. Police spokesman Sgt. Garrett Parten said Monday that the incident was still under investigation and that he had no further information to release.