BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — The police officer who fatally shot a Black man during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb apparently intended to fire a Taser, not a handgun, as the man struggled with police, the city’s police chief said Monday.
Brooklyn Center Chief Tim Gannon described the shooting death Sunday of 20-year-old Daunte Wright as “an accidental discharge.” It happened as police were trying to arrest Wright on an outstanding warrant. The shooting brought violent protests in a metropolitan area already on edge because of the trial of the first of four police officers charged in George Floyd’s death.
“I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you!” the officer is heard shouting on her body cam footage, which was released at a news conference. She draws her weapon after the man breaks free from police outside his car and gets back behind the wheel.
After firing a single shot from her handgun, the car speeds away, and the officer is heard saying, “Holy [expletive]! I shot him.”
President Joe Biden urged calm on Monday, following a night where officers in riot gear clashed with demonstrators. The president said he watched the body camera footage.
“We do know that the anger, pain and trauma amidst the Black community is real,” Biden said from the Oval Office. But, he added, that “does not justify violence and looting.”
The governor instituted another dusk-to-dawn curfew, and law enforcement agencies stepped up their presence across the Minneapolis area. The number of Minnesota National Guard troops was expected to more than double to over 1,000 by Monday night.
While dozens of officers in riot gear and troops guarded the Brooklyn Center police station, more than 100 protesters chanted Wright’s name and hoisted signs that read “Why did Daunte die?” and “Don’t shoot.” Some passing cars flew Black Lives Matter flags out of their windows and honked in support.
Organizers from the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of more than 150 Black-led political and advocacy groups, pointed to Wright’s killing as yet another reason why cities must take up proposals for defunding an “irreparably broken, racist system.”
Wright “should not have had his life ripped from him last night. The fact that police killed him just miles from where they murdered George Floyd last year is a slap in the face to an entire community who continues to grieve,” said Karissa Lewis, the coalition’s national field director.
Gannon said at a news conference that the officer made a mistake, and he released the body camera footage less than 24 hours after the shooting.
The footage showed three officers around a car, which authorities said was pulled over because it had expired registration tags. When another officer attempts to handcuff Wright, a second officer tells Wright he’s being arrested on a warrant. That’s when the struggle begins, followed by the shooting. Then the car travels several blocks before striking another vehicle.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said any decision on charges against the officer will be made by the Washington County attorney under an agreement adopted last year by several county prosecutors aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest. Freeman has been frequently criticized by activists in Minneapolis over his charging decisions involving deadly use of force by police.
Gannon would not name the officer or provide any other details about her, including her race, other than describing her as “very senior.” He would not say whether she would be fired following the investigation.
“I think we can watch the video and ascertain whether she will be returning,” the chief said.
Court records show Wright was being sought after failing to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June. In that case, a statement of probable cause said police got a call about a man waving a gun who was later identified as Wright.
Wright’s family hired civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented the Floyd family in its $27 million settlement with the city of Minneapolis.
“This level of lethal force was entirely preventable and inhumane,” Crump said in a statement. “What will it take for law enforcement to stop killing people of color?”
Speaking before the unrest Sunday night, Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, urged protesters in Brooklyn Center, a city of about 30,000 on the northwest edge of Minneapolis, to stay peaceful and focused on the loss of her son.
Biden referred to her comments on Monday, saying, “We should listen to Daunte’s mom calling for peace and calm.” The president said he had not yet called the family but that his prayers were with them.
Shortly after the shooting, demonstrators began to gather, with some jumping atop police cars. Marchers also descended on the Brooklyn Center Police Department, where rocks and other objects were thrown at officers. About 20 businesses were broken into at the city’s Shingle Creek shopping center, authorities said.
To guard against more unrest, authorities accelerated security measures planned for when the Floyd case goes to the jury. Gov. Tim Walz warned anyone who chooses to “exploit these tragedies” with violence “can rest assured that the largest police presence in Minnesota history” will be prepared to arrest lawbreakers.
At least half a dozen businesses began boarding up their windows along Minneapolis’ Lake Street, the scene of some of the most intense violence after Floyd’s death. National Guard vehicles were deployed to a few major intersections, and a handful of soldiers in camouflage, some carrying assault-style weapons, could also be seen. Several professional sports teams in Minneapolis called off games because of safety concerns.
The most unusual part of this story is not necessarily that the University of Richmond choir traveled to Europe in the spring of 1971 and presented concerts across the continent (and in Iceland), though it was surely remarkable for any students in the group who had never flown on a plane or barely ventured beyond the state line of Virginia at that stage of their lives.
The most unusual part might not even be the fact the students financed a significant portion of the trip through the collection of S&H Green Stamps.
No, the most remarkable part of this story might be that this group of students bonded so strongly throughout this whole adventure — scrambling for almost a year to raise money so they could go, rehearsing for months and performing in churches, schools and even train stations once they got there — that they refused to relegate it to a dusty corner of their memories, even after they graduated and went on with their lives.
They’ve held reunions every five years since then, and this spring will mark 50 years since that “trip of a lifetime” that proved to be just that. They will convene virtually via Zoom on April 17, with hopes of gathering in-person come fall.
For the 40 choir members (plus a student journalist), the trip was undoubtedly memorable, but what keeps the choir coming back together every five years?
“I wonder about that myself,” said Judy Johnson Mawyer, one of the choir members who’s helped organize the ongoing reunions, about the lasting connection. “I think it’s just this group of people clicked.”
Part of what kept them coming back was James Erb, the passionate, intense and extremely focused choral director who arranged the trip and who composed a special arrangement of “Shenandoah” that became the signature musical piece of the tour, an arrangement that has become internationally popular.
“Everybody just wanted to get back and be with him, just because of what he did for us and the impression he left on us and what he taught us,” Mawyer said of Erb, the longtime UR professor of music and founder of the Richmond Symphony Chorus who died in 2014. “That was a relationship we all cherished.”
She added, with a laugh, “Even though he could drive us crazy.”
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of their tour, choir members purchased a memorial paver honoring Erb. It was installed in February next to Cannon Memorial Chapel on the UR campus.
Besides the direction and the motivation for the 1971 trip, Erb also provided a unifying slogan (which he clipped from a cartoon) that became kind of a rallying refrain for the choir during the year they planned, rehearsed and raised money, against some pretty long odds, for the trip: “Only he who attempts the absurd achieves the impossible.”
Erb had been wanting to take a choral group on such a European adventure since the 1950s, he wrote in a report after the trip, but it never seemed feasible for a number of reasons, including the fact that travel to Europe was not nearly as accessible then as it is now.
So, to him, this certainly might have seemed conquering the “impossible.”
“Absurd” might seem a little strong until you realize they were banking heavily on S&H Green Stamps to raise a large portion of the money (though, in fairness, Green Stamps were pretty popular in the early 1970s, and that approach actually worked out).
While the university administration was on board with the trip, it didn’t offer any financial support. It should also be remembered that as well-financed as UR is nowadays, it was only 1969 when E. Claiborne Robins in a stunning announcement pledged to give the school $50 million — a gift that would prove transformative for the university but hadn’t really kicked in by 1971. So, other ways of raising money were explored.
S&H Green Stamps were popular trading stamps, representing one of the first retail loyalty programs. The stamps were given to customers at the checkout counter of supermarkets and department stores and even at gas stations — based on the amount of their purchases. Serious customers took the stamps home, pasted them in booklets and redeemed them for products or cash.
Choir members collected Green Stamps when they shopped but — college students being college students and not the biggest spenders — mostly tried to get them from friends, neighbors and people pumping gas.
Wayne Smith, a violinist who was enlisted to join the choir along with several other instrumentalists (violinists, violists, guitarists and a bassoonist) recalls hanging around gas stations, asking customers if they’d like to donate their green stamps after they topped off their tanks. The pitch went something like this, Smith said: “If you don’t really use your Green Stamps, would you mind donating them to us?”
The students redeemed more than 1,100 books of Green Stamps, at $2 per book. They also collected newspapers and magazines, turning them in for a few cents per pound. They wrote letters to UR alumni, asking for contributions.
All of the fundraising efforts helped cut the total cost per student almost in half, from about $640 to about $350 — for a seven-country, 18-day trip to Europe, arranged by a London-based company; airfare, lodging (though they stayed with families on occasion), pretty much everything included. Well, it was 1971.
Even at what seems a ridiculously low price to travel to Europe, the cost was too much for some students to shoulder all themselves. At the time, annual tuition at UR was only around $2,000, so $640 was a relatively major chunk of change, as was $340.
“It was still a lot of money,” said Donna Strother Deekens, a member of the choir. “A lot of us had part-time jobs and worked summers in between. We didn’t come from really wealthy families.”
The hurdle of expense cleared, they could focus on the trip itself, and it turned out to be quite something. The first stop? Erb’s house. He’d forgotten his raincoat, so their bus detoured to his house on the way to the airport.
“We all thought that was a hoot,” Deekens recalled.
The European portion of the trip began in Luxembourg; the final concert and last stop was in Reykjavík, Iceland.
In between, they made new friends, heard standing ovations and handed out “Virginia Is For Lovers” buttons (the now-famous Virginia tourism slogan was only 2 years old at that point).
They tramped through springtime snow in the Alps and went through “Checkpoint Charlie” at the Berlin Wall to spend a memorable day in East Berlin.
In Elgg, Switzerland, the typically reserved townspeople were so taken with the choir’s performance that they responded with hearty applause — the first time, the choir was told later, applause had ever been heard in the 16th-century church. The town also offered dinner and yodelers.
“We felt so welcome there,” Deekens said.
There were even impromptu concerts: at a historic church in Zurich where they found an organist rehearsing as they toured and were invited to sing, and on the platform at the railway station in Hanover, Germany, where Smith and other string players took out their violins and played fiddle music to entertain themselves (and everyone else) while they awaited a train.
“It was like a magical tour when you’re that age,” Smith said of the trip.
In his post-trip report, Erb considered the tour “wholly successful” from the perspective of “group dynamics.” No cliques formed. Everyone got along just fine.
“Our students liked each other, and were proud of what they were doing,” he said.
Hope Armstrong Erb, a freshman that year who sang and played bassoon on the tour and later became Jim Erb’s daughter-in-law, has over the years as a conductor and teacher led choirs all over the world on similar musical trips.
Traveling together is a bonding experience in itself, she said, but a group making music along the way develops an even deeper connection.
As an added element, she said, the UR choir members were guests in other countries and “on a mission to show the best of America.”
“When you’re a music group ... you go with something to give,” she said. “Which is part of the magic.”
In the 50 years since the trip, the group has lost contact with a few members and two others have died, including Tom Carson, a violinist and singer on the trip and a friend of Smith’s since their days of growing up in Richmond’s North Side.
Carson, a certified public accountant who died in 2018, was always on the committee that organized the reunions.
To honor Carson at the reunion, Smith is putting together a slideshow tribute that will be paired with a lament composed in memory of Carson by another violinist, John Turner, for the Richmond Philharmonic, of which Carson was a longtime member.
This reunion won’t be like any other, but Mawyer hopes the virtual setting will allow participation by those who live out of town and wouldn’t have been able to travel anyway. It will be nice to visit again and swap stories — the gatherings were “like a family reunion each time,” said Ruth Erb, Jim’s widow — but there is one thing they won’t be able to do this year that they had particularly looked forward to doing at previous reunions: singing.
Maybe next fall they can gather in person and lift their voices.
“When we get together and we sing, it’s almost like we were together yesterday,” Deekens said. “We had an amazing camaraderie.”
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After weeks of protests and complaints from students and faculty, the University of Richmond board of trustees announced Monday it would hit the reset button on the controversial names of two campus buildings.
The board said it would form a commission to establish principles on renaming, ensuring a “fresh start.”
In a statement, the board said it and President Ronald Crutcher are “committed to ensuring a broader, more inclusive process to determine how decisions are made about questions of renaming going forward.”
The announcement came two hours before the faculty senate announced it had ratified a vote of no-confidence in the board’s top member, rector Paul Queally, calling for him to resign.
The no-confidence vote came a little more than a week after the faculty senate censured Queally for his comments during a meeting to discuss the building names, in which seven members of the faculty said he referred to students as Black, Brown and “regular students,” and a Black employee said she was interrupted and demeaned by Queally.
A university spokeswoman said Queally would have no comment Monday night.
Of the 352 faculty who cast a vote, 87% voted they had no confidence in Queally, 9% voted in support of the rector, and 4% voted to abstain; 82% of eligible voters cast a ballot.
“These results clearly show that the university faculty have lost confidence in the ability of rector Queally to lead the university community effectively in this challenging and important moment in our institutional history,” said Thad Williamson, faculty senate president, in a statement. “This vote is clear indication that something has gone seriously awry and needs to be addressed, for the good of the entire campus community.”
The vote from the faculty is purely symbolic, with no material effect on university leadership. The board has the power to remove its own members if their actions may negatively reflect on the university, the faculty’s motion said.
The debate over building names has centered around Ryland Hall and Mitchell-Freeman Hall. Robert Ryland, the university’s first president, owned at least 24 slaves. Douglas Southall Freeman, a UR trustee and rector from 1925 to 1950, spoke in support of segregation, white supremacy and eugenics.
In February, UR changed the name of Freeman Hall to Mitchell-Freeman Hall, adding the name of John Mitchell Jr., a former enslaved man who rose to the rank of editor of the Richmond Planet newspaper.
Crutcher, who is Black, said at the time that keeping the names of Ryland and Freeman would serve as a “braided narrative,” telling both the proud and ugly sides of university history. Weeks later, he admitted the university had not handled the renaming process as well as it should have.
Two trustees, Georgia Nugent and John Roush, will lead the commission, consulting with Crutcher and other senior leadership. Retired President Ed Ayers and professor Julian Hayter will serve as advisers, the board said. The commission will conduct substantive and inclusive conversations, the board said in a statement.
“In formulating their recommendations to the board, the planning group will carefully consider the approaches taken by other institutions,” the board said.
Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University and James Madison University are among the Virginia schools that have changed building names associated with the Confederacy, slavery or segregation in the past year. VCU formed a group to study its building names two years before its board of visitors voted on changes.
Last week, the UR board said it had “suspended” its decision not to change the names of the two buildings. But that statement wasn’t enough to stop the Black Student Coalition from leading a march across campus on Wednesday or the faculty from proceeding with its vote of no confidence on Monday.
“It feels like an empty gesture,” Kayla Corbin, a 21-year-old UR senior who is Black, said Wednesday. “We want the university to explicitly commit to recognize us.”
Corbin held a megaphone in her hand, leading about 300 Richmond students, dressed in Black, around the south end of campus.
“No justice, no peace, no racist trustees,” the students chanted.
Kristen Starks, a 20-year-old junior biology major who is Black, said after the protest that there are many students, faculty and staff who make Black students feel welcome. But at an institutional level, UR isn’t completely compatible with the well-being and inclusion of Black students. How welcome she feels at UR depends on the place and the situation, she said.
There are about 4,000 students at UR, and 6% identify as Black, according to the school.
The Black Student Coalition originally made three demands of the board: that it change the names of Ryland Hall and Mitchell-Freeman Hall; that it allow students to designate one class as pass/fail; and that it subsidize off-campus counseling for Black students. The faculty agreed to let students convert one class from a traditional A to F grading model to pass/fail, noting the hardships of the semester.
When the students met with Queally on March 26, he asked them what other demands they had. The students came up with three more, asking for a terrace connected to Ryland Hall not be named for an enslaved person or people; that the university hire a chairperson for the nascent Africana Studies department; and that the university’s multicultural space be given its own building.
Starks said there are only two Black counselors on campus and that counseling is most beneficial when the counselor can identify with the client. The students asked the university to fund off-campus counseling services to “provide a supplement for the unique experiences and conditions Black students might face,” she said.
“The major narrative that we are trying to convey is that you need to listen to Black students,” Starks said.
The board’s lack of action seemingly has rankled alumni, too. Graduates of the university circulated flyers on Facebook urging others to withhold donations until the names were changed, to sign petitions urging change and to write messages to the board. One flyer read, “I’ll keep my dollars till you #change the names.”
Last week, the university announced it would reschedule its annual giving day, an event that raised $1.55 million last year.
Some universities across the country say they will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before they arrive on campus for the fall semester. It’s unclear if federal laws grant them that authority, and so far Virginia universities are taking a cautious approach.
At least 13 colleges have said they will require vaccines in the fall, including private schools Duke, Notre Dame and Cornell and public universities like Rutgers. But two universities in Virginia say they don’t believe the law allows them to mandate vaccines, even as more than 15,000 cases have occurred on Virginia campuses in the past year and colleges scramble to resume in-person activity in the fall.
Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, the chair of the House’s higher education subcommittee, says universities need to be given that authority to keep their communities safe.
“As a policymaker and as the parent of two college kids, I think it’s important that schools are open with all the community on campus being vaccinated,” he said.
Lisa M. Lee, a professor of public health at Virginia Tech, says mandating vaccines at universities is the ethical thing to do.
“I think the recent rise in cases among young people suggest it might be the right thing to do to mandate them, ethically and from a public health perspective,” Lee said.
The question is, does the law allow it?
Federal law requires that when a drug is under emergency use authorization, citizens must be given the option to accept or refuse the drug and be made aware of the possible consequences of refusing it. That terminology is unclear, Lee said. Legal experts disagree about the word “consequences” and whether those consequences can include being denied admission to a university.
Given that some schools have jumped the gun, it’s probable that someone will file a lawsuit, putting the question in the hands of a judge, Lee said.
So far, two Virginia colleges have said they don’t believe they have the authority to require immunization. Virginia Tech said in a statement last month that it cannot require students to take the shot, but spokesman Mark Owczarski said Monday that the university is still considering the issue.
“No decision about requiring a vaccine or not has been made, but we continue to follow and discuss the issue,” he said.
A spokeswoman at the College of William & Mary said the university does not believe it has the authority to require shots.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given its own guidance, saying that whether state, local governments or employers require vaccination is a matter of state or other applicable law. But Virginia law isn’t terribly clear on the issue, either.
Virginia law requires students at public universities to receive vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps and rubella. It does not address whether universities can add their own mandates, leaving some gray area. But it does require students to furnish a “health history consistent with guidelines adopted by each institution’s board of visitors.”
The law could be read either way, to support or oppose vaccination mandates, said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor.
Keam questioned why emergency-use authorization isn’t enough for universities to mandate vaccines. If government agencies are telling people the shots are safe and effective, why should universities need an extra stamp of approval?
Originally, drugs were given emergency-use authorization because health experts didn’t know if the drug was effective, but trying it and taking a risk were better than nothing, Lee said.
In the case of the three COVID-19 vaccines tentatively approved in the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — the vaccines have proved safe and effective, and the companies likely will apply soon for full authorization, Lee added.
But Lee cautioned that no organization can mandate vaccine administration until enough supply is available, a point the country has not reached yet.
Keam urged Gov. Ralph Northam to take action, if necessary. A spokeswoman in the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Most governors in the country have a good deal of power to protect public health and, in Virginia, courts have generally allowed Northam’s orders to remain in effect, Tobias said. Northam could consult the General Assembly about how to proceed and could suggest legislation, though there may not be enough time for that before the fall semester begins.
The Office of the Attorney General is still reviewing the matter, Keam said. A spokeswoman in the attorney general’s office did not respond to an email Monday.
According to one survey by Maguire Associates, most prospective college students would enroll at a university that requires COVID-19 vaccines. The survey reports that 85% of students would enroll and 79% of parents would send their student to a school that mandates immunizations.
But some states are already blocking their universities from doing so, Inside Higher Ed reports. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order that prevents universities that receive state funds from requiring the vaccine. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that made it illegal for businesses to require vaccines, and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has signed a law that stops public colleges from mandating the shot.
Two private schools in the Richmond area, the University of Richmond and Randolph-Macon College, said they have not come to a conclusion on vaccine requirements. A spokeswoman from Virginia Union University and a spokesman for Virginia Commonwealth University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Virginia law typically allows unvaccinated students to apply for a waiver under religious claims, but those exemptions are superseded in the event of a health emergency. Students can ask for health exemptions to enroll in school without a needed vaccine.
While officials have generally recommended that all adults take the vaccine, they have recommended that people with certain allergic reactions or people with compromised immune systems discuss the vaccine with their primary care provider first.
Richmond police officers and firefighters called on city leaders Monday night to increase their wages and reform the pay scale system for local public safety employees.
In the first public hearing on the city’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, about two dozen people said relatively low pay and stress over the last year has led to significant turnover and decline in morale.
“We are not entering a crisis. We are in [a crisis],” said Brendan Leavy, a Richmond police detective and president of the Richmond Coalition of Police. “Our veteran officers are leaving our department in droves. We’ve had over 70 officers leave in the last 10 months. This is not normal.”
The turnout of public safety employees and a smaller group of housing affordability advocates highlighted challenges the city faces while dealing with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting the city’s ability to increase funding for matters city officials say they want to address.
Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed $770.3 million budget proposal includes an additional $2.5 million to raise wages for 820 police officers and firefighters starting in October, but leaves salaries unchanged for 302 employees who are brand-new, currently making the maximum rate or will soon be eligible for a raise.
The proposed budget is a $26.2 million, or 3.5%, increase over the current fiscal year’s, but still less than the budget the mayor originally proposed a year ago at the outset of the pandemic. The mayor’s administration also proposes to freeze 600 of the 3,700 positions covered by the general fund.
Most of the speakers Monday said the pay scale system for public safety employees has been disrupted over the years to save money in prior budget years. They said that has suppressed wages and left the average pay lower than what their counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions earn annually.
Leavy said a coalition of police officers and members of a local firefighters union have proposed a new pay plan that would need an additional $6.4 million to fund. He said they have proposed stretching out its implementation over two years to keep costs down.
A few of the speakers also mentioned the social unrest that roiled the city last summer and the effect it has had on them and their colleagues.
“It’s time for City Council, the mayor and the city of Richmond to fix this broken pay plan,” firefighter Michael Anderson said. “We have firefighters and police that have gone to war this last 12 months. You’ve all seen it on TV. A lot of you saw it outside of your windows. These folks deserve to be put in the same caliber ... as in Henrico and Chesterfield.”
The budget includes wage increases for about two-thirds of the city’s remaining 2,500 general government employees, per recommendations of a 2018 pay study the city commissioned. The increases all equate to more than 1.9% but vary widely. Examples the mayor gave in a budget speech earlier this year said some employees will make up to $14,000 more next year.
The budget also allocates $2.9 million to the city’s affordable housing trust fund.
Organizers with a multifaith civic advocacy group, however, say the council should continue to pursue an overall annual allocation of $10 million to the fund.
“Even in pandemic times, we need to be sure the priority is to eliminate homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in Richmond — to make sure our citizens are not sleeping in their cars, on the streets or in overcrowded temporary shelters,” said Steve Saltzberg, an organizer with Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities, or RISC, the community organization made up of congregations from throughout Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield.
“This is a critical need we must meet.”
After the council passed a resolution in September calling on Stoney to increase the housing fund allocation to $10 million in the next fiscal year, the administration introduced plans to guide tax revenue from expiring real estate tax abatements to the fund. The council passed an ordinance for that plan in January.
Members of RISC said the mayor failed to keep his word after telling them in a meeting last August that he would increase the annual contribution to $10 million. Stoney said his plans will achieve that same goal by 2026.
In a budget work session earlier Monday, Councilwoman Ellen Robertson advocated for increasing the allocation to the fund.
She and other council members also said they will soon go over the concerns about compensation for public safety employees.
The council also discussed the lack of funding for a civilian review board in the proposed budget Monday.
A panel tasked with forming the police oversight board voted unanimously last week to request $600,000. The proposed budget does not contain a line item for it, but several council members said they would be pursuing an allocation in the coming weeks.