A Black Lives Matter demonstration aimed at disrupting a major winter event in St. Paul this weekend was canceled Friday after a leader of the protest group said city and state authorities met their demands.
Mayor Chris Coleman hailed the resolution of the dispute, which will allow the Red Bull Crashed Ice Championship to go forward without problems. The downhill speedskating event on Saturday is expected to attract as many as 140,000 visitors.
Coleman said that the protest would have “created a volatile situation,” and though he respected the right to free speech, there was a need to protect public safety, so he was grateful the protest was called off.
“Through conversation and cooperation, we can address concerns raised by [Black Lives Matter],” he said. “St. Paul is a city where all voices are heard and all people valued.”
In a separate statement to the media, Rashad Turner, a leader of the St. Paul Black Lives Matter group, said, “After several hours of dialogue with Mayor Coleman and other city officials and community leaders, we believe that our demands have been sincerely addressed.”
He also applauded the efforts of state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, who vowed to take some of the issues Black Lives Matter has raised to the Legislature.
Terry Mattson, president of Visit St. Paul, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, said he was “delighted” the protest was canceled.
“We respect the cause, the work of the public safety officials and the fans who are coming to a world-class event,” Mattson said. “I am grateful that the discussion and/or demonstration will continue in another time or place. We should all be thankful that all the demands are being met by Mayor Coleman and Rep. Lesch.”
The plans by Black Lives Matter to disrupt the Crashed Ice event were triggered by the disclosure that a St. Paul police officer posted a message on Facebook urging people to run over marchers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The marchers were protesting the deaths of Jamar Clark and Marcus Golden, who were fatally shot by Minneapolis and St. Paul police, respectively.
Black Lives Matter wanted the officer, Sgt. Jeff Rothecker, fired and stripped of his license to be a peace officer. Rothecker subsequently resigned, but in the meantime, Black Lives Matter mounted other demands.
Turner said in a news release that he applauded a decision by the Ramsey County attorney’s office to review the cases in which Rothecker’s investigation contributed to a conviction to see if any warranted reinvestigating. He also hailed Gov. Mark Dayton’s plan to diversify the all-white Minnesota Board of Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), which licenses police officers.
Coleman said the city was conducting a review of the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Committee, and Police Chief Tom Smith had recently announced that future investigations of officer-involved shootings will be handled by outside agencies.
Lesch said it would take more than a single legislative session to resolve the issues he plans to bring before it, but said he wants to examine police training in tension-filled situations in communities of color, as well as laws regarding the disclosure of information about discipline. If the law is changed, he said, it should apply to everyone, not just police officers.
Lesch said the indictments of police officers in shootings are “incredibly rare,” so the grand jury process needs to be examined — a key concern of Black Lives Matter.
“I don’t necessarily agree that grand juries are where police cases go to die,” Lesch said.
Nathaniel Khaliq, former president of the St. Paul NAACP, praised Turner’s commitment to justice and said the threatened protest achieved results.
“A lot of times you have to go after the economic base in order to attract people’s attention,” he said.