Minnesota highways once again became protest grounds Wednesday, as dozens of people took to the southbound lanes of Interstate 35W near downtown Minneapolis at the peak of the morning commute, the latest public disruption in the wake of last week’s police killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights.
Police arrested 41 protesters who were charged with misdemeanors, including public nuisance and unlawful assembly.
The coalition, in a statement, said it condemned the killing of Castile and “believes this shutdown reinforces our belief that comfort and business as usual must be disrupted until substantive changes occur in our city and throughout the country.” The group also said it was demanding dismantling of police departments. “We believe that security for all of us does not lie in use of aggression and force.”
Several protesters did not return messages seeking comment.
In a statement, the group, which described itself as “a coalition of white people and non-Black people of color [acting] in solidarity with the movement for Black lives,” referred questions to Black Lives Matter Minneapolis spokesperson Oluchi Omeoga.
Omeoga described the coalition members as “white allies” of Black Lives Matter and said it is “awesome that nonblack people have stepped up for us.”
She would not comment on whether there will be more highway blockages.
This is the second freeway blockade in the Twin Cities since Saturday, with mass arrests made at both scenes.
Saturday night and into Sunday morning, hundreds of protesters blocked both of directions Interstate 94 near Lexington Avenue, leading to roughly four dozen arrests.
The state Department of Public Safety (DPS), which oversees the State Patrol, declined to comment on its plans should there be another such incident. “As always, we are ready and prepared to respond if necessary,” said DPS spokesman Doug Neville.
The same traffic-blocking tactic was used after the police shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark on a north Minneapolis street in November. Clark, a black man, was shot by a white officer during a physical struggle.
Castile, a black St. Paul man, was shot after being pulled over in a car. The aftermath of the shooting by a St. Anthony police officer was livestreamed by Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car with him.
The protesters, accompanied by a handful of vehicles parked perpendicular to the highway, took over I-35W around 7:50 a.m.
In a matter of minutes, southbound traffic on the busy highway started backing up for miles.
In holler and response came the demonstrators’ chant: “Who shut this down?” And the reply, “We shut this down!” They also chanted, “White silence is violence,” and “No justice, no peace, prosecute the police.”
A state trooper arrived about 8 a.m. and notified protesters that “if you do not leave, you will be arrested.”
Metro Transit buses arrived to pick up protesters upon arrest. Their vehicles were towed.
In support, spectators on overpasses and closed freeway ramps took up the chanting.
The State Patrol “supports the right to exercise one’s First Amendment rights, but the freeway is not the place to do so,” said Col. Matt Langer, Minnesota State Patrol chief.
Langer called the blockade “unacceptable” given that the highways “are used by everyone and are an artery for emergency vehicles.”
A separate group of protesters gathered briefly in the atrium of the Star Tribune building to protest what they call racist coverage of the shooting deaths and Black Lives Matter. Several dozen people chanted and held up signs in the building, part of the Capella Tower complex in downtown Minneapolis. There were no arrests.
Castile’s death is being investigated by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and two officers have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Wednesday’s protesters who posted bail are scheduled to appear in court July 27. Those who didn’t will appear in court Thursday afternoon.