Neighbors, activists gather to remember Ruszczyk after charges announced in her death

Leslie Badue hugs Justine Ruszczyk's neighbor, Mindy Barry
Minneapolis NAACP President Leslie Badue hugs Justine Ruszczyk's neighbor, Mindy Barry, at a rally and vigil for Ruszczyk in her southwest Minneapolis neighborhood Tuesday evening.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Down the street from the alley where Justine Ruszczyk died last summer, a group of around 50 people — activists, her friends and her neighbors — gathered as the snow fell.

Ruszczyk was shot and killed by Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor as he and his partner responded to her 911 call. Ruszczyk, 40, had called to report what she thought was a sexual assault behind her house.

"We are relieved that her killer is being prosecuted and we hope for a swift trial that is respectful to Justine and her loved ones," said Todd Schuman, a member of the activist group Justice for Justine, told the group that had gathered. "Police need to be held accountable for their actions that harm individuals and damage communities, just as any one of us would be held accountable."

Neighborhood residents, activists and the media gather
Neighborhood residents, activists and the media gather on the corner of West 50th Street and Washburn Avenue for a rally and vigil Tuesday night.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman charged Noor with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter Tuesday. During a news conference after Freeman's announcement, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo apologized to Ruszczyk's family and friends in Minnesota and Australia, where she was originally from.

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"I want to say I'm sorry. I know that these three words will not bring Justine back, but I want you to know that I am deeply saddened and truly sorry for her death and for your tragic loss," Arradondo said.

Minneapolis Council Member Linea Palmisano joined Ruszczyk's neighbors at the Tuesday night vigil. She said afterward that she's seen some improvements in the city's police department, prompted by Ruszczyk's death: Arradondo's promotion to chief and new rules around body cameras. The night Ruszczyk died, Noor and his partner, officer Matthew Harrity, did not turn their body cameras on until after Ruszczyk was shot.

Michelle Gross, a frequent police critic and leader of the activist group Communities United Against Police Brutality, also attended the vigil. She said she is still waiting for broader changes.

"I meet with [Arradondo] every other month, and I talk to him about the ways to change the culture, and I'm sad to say I don't think he's making very much progress," Gross said. "But he does at least listen to you and have an open door."

Activist Nekima Levy-Pounds was among the speakers at the Tuesday evening vigil. She pointed to the shootings of young black men by white police officers.

"It should not have taken the shooting death of Justine, a beautiful white woman from southwest Minneapolis and Australia, of course, for people to wake up to the problems that we have been talking about for years," Levy-Pounds said.

Noor's attorney, Tom Plunkett, said in a statement that the 32-year-old officer acted as he was trained to do, and should not have been charged in the case. The Minneapolis Police Department announced that, as of Tuesday, Noor no longer works for the department. He is expected to make his first appearance before a judge on Wednesday afternoon.