Three days before Christmas, a small memorial appeared outside a Minneapolis police precinct’s headquarters.
A dozen lit candles, about twice as many roses and a small framed picture of Justine Damond seemed to honor the life of the 40-year-old Australian woman who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last summer. Under the portrait were three signs that read “United We Stand.”
By Saturday, the shrine had been vandalized, and by Christmas Day it had been removed by police. A white nationalist group claimed it erected the memorial.
“One family will be having an incomplete Christmas this year,” Identity Evropa said in a tweet Friday that said its activists were responsible for the memorial outside the department’s Fifth Precinct — the precinct where Officer Mohamed Noor was working in July when he fatally shot Damond in an alley in her south Minneapolis neighborhood after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault. The tweet pointed out that Noor has not been charged. It also referred to his Somali birth.
White nationalists have become increasingly vocal this year. In August, a rally at the University of Virginia by several hundred white nationalists and white supremacists, organized in part by Identity Evropa, resulted in shoving, punching and the spraying of chemical irritants by both groups. The next day, a counterprotester was killed at a second rally.
Many white nationalists have openly embraced President Trump, who has attempted to curtail immigration and has denounced “sanctuary cities.”
This was not the first time white nationalists built a memorial for the victim of a high-profile shooting. A memorial last year to Kate Steinle, who was fatally shot while on a stroll with her father in San Francisco’s Embarcadero in 2015, was reportedly created by white nationalists. A jury acquitted a Mexican immigrant charged in the 32-year-old’s death, which became a rallying cry for those who want stricter immigration measures, such as a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
By the time police were notified of the shrine created for Damond in Minneapolis, it had been disassembled. An officer cleaned up what remained and picked up some extinguished candles that had rolled around — but not because of the memorial’s possible ties to the white nationalist group, police spokesman John Elder said.
The department’s policy, he said, does not allow memorials or similar postings on police grounds. “Nothing should be on the property. If it blows on the road of travel, at that point, it’s basically litter. At that point, it was just stuff that was blowing around,” Elder said.
He added that police did not have any indication, aside from “rumors,” that the memorial was linked to Identity Evropa, and that the shrine was “absolutely not” taken down because of the group that put it there.
In a statement to the Minneapolis Star Tribune late Sunday, Mayor-Elect Jacob Frey called the actions of white nationalists “cowardly and disgusting.”
“I condemn the perpetrators and their tactics in the strongest possible terms. Identity Evropa and those who share their values have no place in our city. Hate has no place in Minneapolis. Period,” he said.
Identity Evropa, which refers to itself as a “generation of awakened Europeans,” has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating Damond’s death, has released few details about the shooting, which was not captured on camera. While Officer Matthew Harrity and Noor were driving through the alley before midnight July 15, a loud sound reportedly startled them. Shortly afterward, Noor shot Damond. The loud noise may have been caused by a woman slapping the officers’ patrol car, according to a search warrant application filed a few weeks after the incident.
The officers had responded to 911 calls from Damond at about 11:30 p.m. reporting a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home in a nice Minneapolis neighborhood. Damond called again eight minutes later because police had not arrived and she was worried they had gone to the wrong address. Moments later, the loud noise was heard, and Damond approached the side of the police vehicle. Noor then fired his gun across his partner’s body and through the driver’s-side window, hitting Damond in the abdomen.
Damond, a yoga teacher, died at the scene 20 minutes after she called 911. She had moved to Minneapolis in 2015 to be with her fiance.
Her shooting sparked international outcry. People rallied in Minnesota, Damond’s family held beachside vigils in Australia, and the Minneapolis police chief resigned over concerns that Noor and Harrity were not trained properly.
Noor, who is a Somali American, has declined to speak with BCA investigators. Harrity’s attorney hinted in July that the officers may have believed they were being ambushed, according to the Star Tribune.
Noor is on administrative leave, Elder said.
Katie Mettler contributed to this report.