Credit law enforcement officers, Minnesota State Fair officials, Black Lives Matter protesters and patient fairgoers for the peaceful demonstration that took place Saturday in St. Paul. All parties did what was needed to balance the free-speech rights of the demonstrators while maintaining public safety.
No violence was reported, and no arrests were made, as several hundred demonstrators walked from Hamline Park to the fair gates, escorted by police on bikes while a drone flew overhead. Police shut down Snelling Avenue to northbound traffic and temporarily closed some State Fair gates, and fair officials canceled a daily parade.
There were a few testy moments. Some fairgoers who were forced to use other entrances or exits shouted at demonstrators. One man shook his cane at demonstrators during a confrontation, and marshals stepped between protesters and a man who yelled “All lives matter.”
But the clear lowlight of the march came when some protesters chanted that “pigs in a blanket” should “fry like bacon.” That kind of senseless rhetoric has no place in any protest, but especially one in which police did an exemplary job protecting both protesters and onlookers. It was especially insensitive just days after suburban Houston police officer Darren Goforth was shot and killed while filling his gas tank in what Sheriff Ron Hickman said was a “clearly unprovoked” attack. “Our assumption is that [Goforth] was a target because he wore a uniform,” the sheriff said.
It’s dismaying that Black Lives Matter St. Paul lead organizer Rashad Turner didn’t condemn the chant when it became a national news story Monday, and instead told the Star Tribune that it was not meant to threaten officers. “It was a chant,” he said. “I think that the crazy thing is that there’s all this uproar about rhetoric but there isn’t uproar about the facts. … Just because they provide us with their self-appointed escort does not mean it erases the fact that they are the deadliest police department in the state.”
Using facts, the Black Lives Matter movement can add much to the national debate about the need for change within some police departments, as well as bring heightened awareness to racial disparities and poverty. Clearly, Democratic presidential candidates are paying attention. Hillary Rodham Clinton met briefly with a Black Lives Matter protester who had tried to interrupt one of her campaign events. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’ Malley issued a new criminal justice reform position. And Bernie Sanders hired an African-American criminal justice advocate as press secretary and has issued a statement on racial justice.
Polls show that Americans are listening to the Black Lives Matter message and are increasingly agreeing that change is needed in many police departments. Why jeopardize that progress with ready-for-YouTube moments like “pigs in a blanket … fry like bacon?”
A local Black Lives Matter group has called for another demonstration Tuesday at Gov. Mark Dayton’s residence on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. We hope that it, too, will be peaceful, and that protesters will remember that their cause is diminished by the kind of inflammatory rhetoric used by some of Saturday’s fair protesters.