Photo gallery: Black Lives Matter marches on the Minnesota State Fair

Hundreds of protesters joined Black Lives Matter Saint Paul to march to the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday morning to demand change in the fair’s vendor selection process, as well as protest the St. Paul Police Department, who BLM organizers say have a poor history with minority communities.

Marchers trekked roughly a mile to the fairgrounds from St. Paul’s Hamline Park, shutting down northbound traffic on Snelling Avenue, and briefly closing down both lanes of Como Avenue, where dozens of marchers attempted to enter the fair before St. Paul police closed the gates.

BLM supporters chanted for a half hour as fairgoers watched from behind the fencing. Marchers then moved to the main gate on Snelling before eventually dispersing. The event lasted about two hours.

Like other past BLM events in the Twin Cities, the protest remained peaceful, but garnered heavy criticism online — largely focused on BLM’s claims regarding discrimination in the vendor selection process — and mixed reception from onlookers.

BLM St. Paul organizer Rashad Turner said that, despite the criticism, the protest wasn’t just about making noise, but about bringing attention to real changes they hope to see made. “This ain’t just about the State Fair, it’s about the bigger picture,” Turner said. “But [the fair, and those who run it] represent some of the same disparities we see in our city of St. Paul, some of the same disparities we see across the state. And definitely across this nation.”

At the rally, Turner listed off some demands advocated by BLM St. Paul: body cameras for all St. Paul police officers; revisiting the indictment of the two officers involved in the fatal shooting of St. Paul resident Marcus Golden back in January; and requiring officers to carry personal liability insurance to deter them from acting rashly.

Turner also said the State Fair needs to do a better job proactively including communities of color. “They really need to include us at the table to come up with a plan that’s equitable,” he said. “There’s no way everyone is represented if you have a colorblind policy.”

State Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer mostly dismissed the organization’s claims, saying three out of the six new vendors at the fair are minority-run, and that anything but a colorblind system would turn the fair on its head because of tough competition.

“In any given year there are at least 450 registrants for food space,” Hammer said. “If we have three or four [new vendors] a year, it’s actually a lot. That’s why we don’t invite people to participate.”

Turner said that colorblind systems only perpetuate existing disparities between communities of color and their white counterparts. “Anyone who does the research on what [colorblind policies] mean and how that’s been studied, they would know that,” he said.

Programs like Affirmative Action, which seeks to proactively close disparity gaps in workplaces and schools, have been a source of national controversy for decades. But Turner said these kinds of programs are necessary if we expect to see any real economic changes for communities of color.

Marlin McElroy, who works shuttling disabled persons to and from the fair, said he was disappointed by how some onlookers reacted to the protest, but that he supports the movement and was proud to see BLM at the fair.

“What just happened here right now is more important to me than anything,” McElroy said. “[African Americans] aren’t properly represented anywhere.”

BLM organizer Rashad Turner speaks to the crowd at Hamline Park.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
BLM organizer Rashad Turner speaks to the crowd at Hamline Park.
The one mile march took roughly an hour
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
The one mile march took roughly an hour as participants made their way from Hamline Park to the fair.
A Black Lives Matter marshall blocks off traffic as the march begins.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
A Black Lives Matter marshall blocks off traffic as the march begins.
Day'Resha Jones chants at the head of the crowd.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Day’Resha Jones chants at the head of the crowd.
Ferneatress pushes her daughter Armery in a stroller down Snelling Avenue.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Ferneatress pushes her daughter Armery in a stroller down Snelling Avenue.
Monique Collars-Doty
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Monique Collars-Doty lays quietly for four minutes to give reverence to the four hours Mike Brown’s body laid in the street.
Participants perform a die-in on a railway overpass on Snelling Avenue.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Participants perform a die-in on a railway overpass on Snelling Avenue.
Minneapolis resident Drew Edwards
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Minneapolis resident Drew Edwards leads a chant as the crowd makes its way north on Snelling Avenue.
Missouri native Crystal Williams
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Missouri native Crystal Williams travelled across state lines to show her support.
Mia Johnson said the protest forces people to think about racial problems.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Mia Johnson said the protest forces people to think about racial problems.
Matt Sciple carries one of many signs criticizing the vendor selection
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Matt Sciple carries one of many signs criticizing the State Fair’s vendor selection policy.
St. Paul police follow along the march on bicycles
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
St. Paul police follow along the march on bicycles as they escort the crowd to the fair.
Viane Burch
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Viane Burch says there weren’t many minorities at the fair 10 years ago and nothing has changed today.
Shuttle driver Marlin McElroy
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Shuttle driver Marlin McElroy said he was disappointed by how some onlookers reacted to the protest.
Marchers cheered as they arrived at the gates of the State Fair.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Marchers cheered as they arrived at the gates of the State Fair.
Fairgoers watch the protest from the other side of the fence.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Fairgoers watch the protest from the other side of the fence.
A police line rushed to close Gate 7 on Como Avenue
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
A police line rushed to close Gate 7 on Como Avenue before dozens of protesters could make their way into the fairgrounds.
A protester yells at a line of police blocking their entrance.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
A protester yells at a line of police blocking their entrance.
Another protester holds up a sign against the closed gate.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
Another protester holds up a sign against the closed gate.
St. Paul police set up barricades at fair entrances
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue
St. Paul police set up barricades at fair entrances in anticipation of the march.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Howard Miller on 08/31/2015 - 11:56 am.

    how about no sun glasses on police and protesters?

    Ever converse with someone you don’t know who’s wearing sun glasses? It’s hard to read their nonverbal cues, understand their meaning, as eyes do speak to us as well as see for them.

    With obvious exception for bright sunshine, how about police not wearing sun glasses while working among the public? Maybe less misunderstanding would result. Same for protesters.

  2. Submitted by Michael Hess on 08/31/2015 - 12:36 pm.

    Keep moving the goal posts

    When the protests were first announced it was stated that the fair would “deny black and other minority business owners the opportunity of being a vendor at the fair”. Then when it was revealed that people of all colors try for years to get into the fair, and out of over 400 applicants for 6 slots this year, three went to minority/POC, based on their merits in a colorblind process, the narrative changed. Now it’s no longer good enough to have a fair shot based on the merits of your concept, there should be a quota system that apparently includes displacing some long time vendors to make room. This is going backwards.

  3. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 08/31/2015 - 04:58 pm.

    BLM State Fair Protest

    Did the protesters trying to enter the fair have tickets?

    • Submitted by Doug Gray on 09/01/2015 - 10:09 am.

      one assumes so

      Even the people who rent booths at the State Fair and their employees need tickets every day. Trying to enter the State Fair without a ticket is probably a more serious offense than blocking traffic on Snelling. Dolla dolla bill y’all.

  4. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 08/31/2015 - 06:30 pm.

    Insular process

    It’s important for people to understand just how closed the whole Fair establishment is. Take a look at its website. http://www.mnstatefair.org/general_info/about_us.html
    Its history, the Board, its 501c status, its ties to agriculture and “quasi” government status all guarantee an insular process. Gestures are made occasionally toward including all Minnesotans, but nothing much has changed since the 19th century.

    As for the “colorblind” process, why is that considered fair? Have we forgotten that State and local contracts have long included a process for ensuring minority access to juicy pies? There is nothing wrong with accommodating people who’ve been left out of the fair’s vendor licensing.

    From the website: “The process is very competitive. Each year many registrations are considered
    for a limited number of licensing opportunities. The Minnesota State Fair does not maintain a waiting list. As licensing opportunities become available,appropriate license registrations will be selected from the pool of registrations submitted.
    “Criteria considered in registration review:

    – Experience at other fairs or shows
    – Booth presentation and appearance
    – Balance of similar products/services about the fairgrounds
    – Appropriateness of product, service or presentation to the available site
    – Physical requirements”

    It’s been argued that minority vendors wouldn’t be able to staff and supply a booth for 12 days of huge crowds. Does that mean the deck is stacked against small businesses? Could licenses rotate so a small business could participate for six days and another take over for the second 6 days? What innovative solutions could be designed to make more opportunities? I wonder why slots open so rarely and when it was decided that a booth at the fair was a protected right, like membership in an exclusive club.

    But most important, I doubt that the first priority of Black Lives Matter was to get more vendors and minority attendees at the Fair. The point of their name, which some get so indignant about, was not that only black lives matter but that they seem to be snuffed out regularly with little public concern. So they banded together and said We DO Matter! They chose the Great Minnesota Get-Together – where comfortable whites gather to eat, drink and play – in order to say, “Pay attention! Our lives are as sacred as yours!”

    If a white 20-yr-old had been shot by a cop for possibly stealing 6 cigars, white Americans would have gone ballistic. But it seemed to be business as usual in Ferguson, MO. When black citizens demanded justice, the police turned out in riot gear with armored vehicles. That’s how Black Lives Matter came into being, and I’m proud or their courage and perseverance.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 08/31/2015 - 11:01 pm.

      It IS “membership in an exclusive club”.

      I remember many years ago approaching the Fair to see what it took to get a booth. It looked virtually impossible to crack the barrier of long-persisting vendors at that time, and it looks like it’s worse today, or at least as bad.

      There are vendors who work multiple State Fairs in a circuit-like fashion. It is their business. Some of them are not even Minnesotans. There are vendors who continue apparently for long years with a lock on the opportunity, closed to outsiders.

      The only solution is a change in the policies of the Fair.

      One thing which would introduce fairness is a modification of the selection process used in the Fringe festival. Booth slots could be granted to vendors for a limited scope of time. Let all the vendors apply on an equal footing, impose the same criteria on all their proposals so that the poorly crafted proposals are eliminated. Finally, draw lots from the pool of survivors to see who gets the booths, maybe for a maximum of 2 years.

      I’m sure this suggestion would go over like a lead balloon with those folks in charge of the Fair, who are quite complacently satisfied with the way they do things now. But it would add a new kind of excitement to the whole place. It would offer opportunity to all and introduce fairness to the process.

      Why should a small number of “select” vendors be the only ones given the opportunity, anyway ? What’s the rationale for it ? Does the rationale hold water ?

  5. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 08/31/2015 - 07:35 pm.

    My life…

    matters!!!!!

  6. Submitted by Dave Fisher on 09/03/2015 - 09:15 am.

    March

    BLM started and ended their march on the State Fair in Hamline Park. They just showed up unannounced, and without apology overwhelmed an arts festival that had a Park permit and had been planned for more than a year. I question whether BLM achieved its goals through such behavior.

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