Hundreds of Black Lives Matter St. Paul supporters staged a peaceful disruption of the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday, gathering at the main gates and chanting their message of racial inequities and unfair treatment of minorities as throngs of fairgoers watched from inside the fenced fairgrounds.
The protesters marched from Hamline Park, less than 2 miles south of the main entrance, up a partly closed Snelling Avenue, enduring some heckling from onlookers and held a brief “die-in.” At one point, the crowd deviated from the announced march route and attempted to enter a Como Avenue fair entrance, which was quickly blocked by police officers on horseback and reinforced by a line of uniformed officers standing side by side inside the closed gate.
“I don’t know how you make somebody care other than get in the street and disrupt things,” said protester Monique Cullars-Doty, the aunt of Marcus Golden, a young black man shot by St. Paul police during an incident in January. Golden’s case was a rallying cry of the marchers, with some carrying signs reading “Marcus Golden Matters.”
Other protesters chanted “Black lives … they matter here.”
Jerry Putzir of St. Charles, Minn., watched Saturday’s protest from inside the fairgrounds as the group filed down Como Avenue. His son is showing a steer at the fair.
“They’re just hurting themselves,” he said of the marchers. “Everyone has the right to protest, but people are just fed up that they’re blocking the traffic, wrecking somebody’s business and blocking the entrances. It inconveniences.” Fair officials did cancel a scheduled parade inside the fairgrounds Saturday.
After a short rally at the main gates, the protest headed back down Snelling toward the park where the march began that morning.
St. Paul police said no arrests were made, but marchers heard some heckling from onlookers. Around 1 p.m., police on bicycles spoke to a man who shouted and shook his cane at protesters. Another man yelled at the marchers, “All lives matter,” and Black Lives Matter marshals linked arms to separate him from the crowd.
One St. Paul officer told a reporter that Black Lives Matter St. Paul had been cooperative in working with police. “This is what democracy looks like,” he said.
A diverse cast of marchers participated in the nearly four-hour protest, including Angelica Perez, who carried a “Latina For Black Lives” sign.
“Too often people say All Lives Matter,” said Perez of Minneapolis. “It negates the fact that there’s huge disparities in the black and brown community.”
Lead organizer Rashad Turner told the crowd Saturday morning, “Our goal is to use our voices … to unite as one.”
The day began with a morning gathering of more than two dozen people at Hamline Park for de-escalation training that covered tactics to avoid confrontation with hecklers and what to do if approached by an officer.
Traffic on Como Avenue was closed briefly during the marchers’ unsuccessful entry attempt but was soon reopened. Earlier, as a drone hovered overhead, police shut down Snelling to northbound traffic and warned marchers to stay off medians for their own safety.
As the throng crossed the Snelling Avenue bridge toward the fairgrounds, marchers sat or lay down on the roadway for a brief moment of silence.
The group announced its plans last week to disrupt operations to raise awareness about issues that plague black communities, and also to call attention to alleged disparity issues at the fair, which organizers say has not been welcoming to minority vendors or patrons.
Trahern Crews of St. Paul, an organizer with Black Lives Matter St. Paul, said Saturday the group also marched because it wants Gov. Mark Dayton to reopen the investigation into Golden’s death, and wants independent investigations into all police shooting deaths.
Crews said he wasn’t expecting any violence Saturday but was concerned by racist comments and death threats online in the days before the march. “It’s a big event so this is a big opportunity for us to talk about inequality, wealth disparity and police brutality.”
He added, “St. Paul has been talking equality for two to three years but we’re not seeing any change.”
Protesters Susan Montgomery and her 10-year-old son, Taye Clinton, of St. Paul, who was Maced during a Black Lives Matter march in Minneapolis in May, carried a sign saying “Not One More.”
“We don’t want any of our children to be brutalized anymore,” Montgomery said. “I don’t want my son to be hurt anymore.”
She said Taye has had nightmares after the police encounter. According to Montgomery, Minneapolis police internal affairs have told her the investigation could take a year or more.
“I don’t think it’s anger for him, it’s being scared. Our kids shouldn’t be scared to walk outside.”
Taye chimed in: “It’s important for me. I think we should make a change.”
During the march, Raeisha Williams of Minneapolis wore one of two large puppets made by Ancestry Puppets, props previously used at a May Day Parade. One puppet depicted black abolitionist Harriet Tubman, another “just a brother in the movement.”
“Who can hate a puppet? When you have puppets in the element of a march it calms things down,” Williams said.
Saturday marked the busy opening weekend of the fair. Because of the anticipated congestion on Snelling, officials encouraged fairgoers to explore alternative routes. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on Friday encouraged people to not be deterred from attending the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
Black Lives Matter St. Paul is a separate group from Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, which supported the protest and has organized several demonstrations throughout the Twin Cities in the past year, including one at the Mall of America. While the Minneapolis group is an official chapter of the national Black Lives Matter movement, Turner said his group still has to apply to be recognized in the same way.
The State Fair’s general manager said he offered Black Lives Matter a booth inside the fairgrounds, but Turner turned it down. He said another person secured a booth, however, and is selling Black Lives Matter materials even though he is not affiliated with Turner’s group.