One of St. Paul’s busiest intersections came to a complete halt Monday afternoon after more than a thousand Minnesotans showed up to celebrate Martin Luther King Day and to call for an end to police brutality, lack of police accountability and the ongoing racial disparities in Minnesota and nationwide.
Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, which organized the event, estimated that more than 2,000 participants showed up to march over four miles from Snelling and University avenues to the Minnesota State Capitol. At the Capitol, participants held a candle light vigil for Marcus Golden, a black man who was fatally shot by St. Paul police last week.
Organizers initially planned to march down I-94, but were thwarted by Minnesota State Troopers, who blocked off access to the Interstate. Instead, the march headed east down University Avenue and along side streets. Protesters stopped at several spots along the way, including an overpass over I-94 and at the St. Paul Police Western District police station.
The march remained peaceful, with St. Paul police working with protesters to block traffic as participants marched to the Capitol, including briefly halting traffic on I-94.
“The state of Minnesota, Minneapolis and St. Paul, have some of the largest racial disparities when it comes to policing, housing, education and employment,” said Black Lives Matter Minneapolis organizer Lena Gardner. “We’re here to say that that is wrong and we want our legislators, we want the governor, we want the mayor to take it seriously.”
African American men are 21 times more likely to be fatally shot by police than their white counterparts. And according to a study done by Minnesota Public Radio, St. Paul officers have fatally shot more suspects than any other department across the state, with eight of the 11 fatal shootings since 2008 being people of color.
Protesters chanted “Black lives matter!” and “Marcus Golden matters!” as they marched. They also held “die-ins,” silently lying on the ground in commemoration of black individuals who have died at the hands of police.
Black Lives Matter organizers labeled the protest #ReclaimMLK on social media, and compared their movement to the beginning of the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. “It’s about reclaiming MLK’s commitment to fighting injustice,” Gardner said. “We need to remember at one point in time, MLK was the most hated man in America … it took him 13 years to build his movement.”
The march was the latest in a series of high-profile protests, including one that briefly shut down I-35W and another that shut down the Mall of America, both in December.
In response to the MOA protest, the City of Bloomington has charged ten Black Lives Matter organizers and 25 activists with a variety of offenses: trespassing, unlawful assembly, public nuisance and disorderly conduct. Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson has also said that the organizers should be held responsible for the thousands of dollars the city spent on extra police during the protest and the money lost by vendors during the mall’s shut-down.
No arrests were reported during Monday’s march, and St. Paul Police public information officer Paul Paulos said the city didn’t issue any extra law enforcement to cover the event. The officers present were only there to help keep the marchers safe, he said. “This is a celebration.”
Kristoffer Tigue is a local freelance writer and former editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet.