Around noon on Saturday, Black Lives Matter organizers expect up to 1,000 protesters to march along a heavily trafficked stretch of Snelling Avenue in St. Paul to the main State Fair entrance. Demonstrators want to make their case before one of the largest annual gatherings in the state — a strategy that has motivated them to conduct similar protests at the Mall of America, on a Minneapolis freeway and at other busy intersections.
Our hope is that the State Fair protest will be a peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights that causes little disruption to the State Fair and its patrons.
Protesters certainly have the right to free speech and assembly in public places. At the same time, those attending the fair should be able to use the main gate on the opening weekend. Balancing those interests will depend on cooperation between the demonstrators and law enforcement. Police officials who have dealt with Black Lives Matter and other large protest groups say open communication between authorities and demonstrators helps keep everyone safe.
That should be top of mind for all involved. Officials likely will have to reroute some traffic. And they must be sure that emergency vehicles can get in and out of the fairgrounds. In previous years, police or other emergency agencies have received 20 to 30 calls and they have transported up to nine people to the hospital during the fair’s 12-day run.
A few ill-advised “shut it down” comments have surfaced on social media. We hope protesters realize that sentiment — and any action related to it — does more harm than good. Keeping people from attending a popular annual gathering is not an effective way to build support for action.
Black Lives Matter organizers say they are protesting the police-related deaths of blacks and other racial issues. The fair march is also intended to bring attention to what they say is a lack of spots for minority vendors. Jerry Hammer, the fair’s general manager, has said that potential vendors don’t disclose their race when applying and that spots are competitive but open to anyone. Most years, he said, a minimum of 450 apply for only a handful of food spots. He added that of the six new food vendors this year, three are minority-owned.
Nationwide, Black Lives Matter has tapped into deep concerns about racism. Earlier this month, a Pew Research Center survey found that half of the country says racism is a “big problem,” up from one-third who said so five years ago. Four in 10 whites now see racism as a “big problem,” up from 1 in 4 when the question was asked in 2010. In fact, Black Lives Matter chapters across the nation are made up of people of all races.
We trust restraint and calm will prevail for protesters, police and fairgoers this weekend. An orderly demonstration is the best way to accomplish dual goals — getting the Black Lives Matter message across to a large crowd and allowing fairgoers to have a safe, enjoyable Saturday at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.