Roughly 100 protesters assembled in St Paul to protest what they said was excessive force on a 17-year-old with autism.

At about 10:15, protesters began to march west on the light rail tracks after a rally in the middle of the intersection of Lexington and University. The group staged a die-in on the tracks before walking to the Western District police station. 

Later the protesters returned to Lexington Avenue, where they said the would remain until the Vikings noon kickoff time.

Marcus Abrams, the teenager who inspired the demonstration, addressed the crowd and reporters, as did his mother, Maria Caldwel.

Some counter-protesters stood nearby, prompting a minor confrontation that organizers defused.

The counter-protesters included Jason Thomas, 33, an equipment operator from Red Wing who came to protest the Black Lives Matter demonstration.

"People shouldn't be targeted and inconvenienced," Thomas explained. He said he agrees with the overall spirit of the Black Lives Matter protest, but disagreed with its "tactics and methods,"

A tense moment developed when one of the counter-protesters flew a Confederate flag about 50 feet away from the rally taking place in the middle of the intersection.

Organizers quickly moved to defuse a confrontation between the man carrying the Confederate flag and an elderly man who grew angry at the flag.

On Sunday morning, Metro Transit announced that buses are replacing Green Line trains between the Snelling Avenue and Capitol/Rice Street stations. Staff will be on hand to direct riders. The Green Line serves TCF Bank Stadium, where the Vikings will host Detroit in the season home opener. Game time is noon.

Cullen Deck, 28, engineer from St. Paul, was on his way to the Vikings game when he came across the protest at Hamline and University.

He had planned ahead for the delay but said he was unbothered.

"I think it's great," Deck said of the protest.

He pointed out that the protest seemed peaceful. "Police are cooperating. It's what makes this country great."

He and others were being diverted to buses after transit officials took steps to re-route passengers, including those headed to the Vikings game.

The light rail stop meanwhile stood empty, and the only sight of Vikings fans was early -- before the rally commenced.

Liane Gale, 52, of Roseville and originally from Germany, marched with protesters Sunday morning, saying she hoped the demonstration would help raise public awareness on the killing of black men at the hands of law enforcement.

"I don't understand why the number of fatalities is so high in the United States," Gale said.

As Gale, a substitute teacher who lives in Roseville, marched, she said she was elated to see passersby support the demonstration.

At Hamline and University, several motorists honked their horns and raised their fists in support. "We have a lot of solidarity,"she said.

The group is protesting what they say was excessive force by Metro Transit police who confronted and restrained Abrams, a 17-year-old autistic boy, at the Lexington Parkway station on Aug. 31.

During the incident, Abrams was spotted standing on the rail tracks. When transit officers approached him, they say he resisted arrest, kicking and punching, and they forced him to the ground.

Abrams sustained a cut and swollen lip and cuts on his face and head, his mother, said after the incident. “They totally mishandled the situation,” she said. Caldwell said her son didn’t hear officers’ orders when they approached him because he was wearing headphones.

The family has decried the quick escalation of force used to incapacitate Abrams and has called for better training of police in dealing with autistic people.

Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla says the incident remains under investigation.

Padilla says Metro Transit has successfully dealt with demonstrations before, but riders are advised to keep tabs on the situation and allow extra time for their trips this morning.

More than 175 people responded to an invitation to today’s disruption on the group’s Facebook event page.

“This is a disciplined, peaceful protest against this injustice and all police excessive force,” the group posted last week. “As a community we all know that autism is not a crime. … Come out and let your voice be heard in support of Marcus Abrams. We want those officers fired.”

The group acknowledged that it chose Sunday to protest because it’s the Vikings’ home opener — a “big money day, so what better day to shut the light rail down and disrupt business as usual,” it said.

Black Lives Matter St. Paul, an offshoot of the larger Minneapolis chapter, first gained attention after holding a protest at the State Fair over what it deemed organizers’ unfair treatment of minority vendors. Organizers later found themselves on the defensive after a video surfaced of marchers chanting a phrase that police said promoted violence against officers.
 

Staff writers Libor Jany and Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.