Four days before more than 11,000 runners line up for the start of Sunday's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, the threat by protesters to disrupt the 26.2-mile race has some marathoners on edge about their safety, while others are angry that months of training could be jeopardized as they approach the finish line.
The St. Paul chapter of Black Lives Matter says it's planning on "shutting down" the annual October running event near the finish at the State Capitol to raise awareness of recent incidents involving St. Paul police and people of color.
St. Paul police and the marathon's organizers declined Tuesday to discuss the protest, but issued statements saying they are working on plans to ensure the safety of runners, volunteers and spectators.
Thousands of those for and against the protest took to social media to voice their sentiments. Some who support Black Lives Matter said they opposed the group's plan to disrupt a race that draws thousands of people who have trained months to run 26.2 miles, including many who are running to raise money for charitable causes.
Fear of violence
Tina Hauser, who runs about 12 marathons a year and is planning to run the Twin Cities race, said runners are very focused as they push to the end of the race and she's concerned about potential conflicts.
"People are afraid of the worst-case scenario — violence," she said.
But she said she doesn't know anyone who isn't going to run Sunday because of the protest. In trying to reach out to protest organizers, Hauser issued an appeal on Facebook.
"If you succeed in blocking our finish line, you are doing more than stopping human beings from crossing a rubber timing mat," she wrote. "You are telling me that you do not value good citizens setting positive examples of perseverance and triumph."
Hauser, of St. Cloud, said she refrained from commenting at first because she didn't want to be perceived as being racist or unsympathetic to the Black Lives Matter cause. She merely wants organizers to better understand why disrupting the marathon isn't a good idea.
"This isn't just some dumb race or a bunch of vain people who want to go really fast," she said in an interview. "At the end, as soon as I can catch my breath and sit down and get a piece of food, I'm happy to sit down with them," she said. "Let's get to know each other and talk as human beings. … A lot of my running friends have been talking about how we as a running community can help their cause."
The St. Paul group's spokesman, Rashad Turner, declined an interview request but sent a text quoting Martin Luther King Jr. saying that "the Negro's great stumbling block to freedom…is the white moderate who is more devoted to order than justice…who constantly says, 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action.' "
The St. Paul chapter recently organized protests at the State Fair, the governor's residence and on the Green Line light rail that have drawn crowds varying from dozens to hundreds.
Ashley Oliver, a member of Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis and the legal chairwoman of the NAACP in Minneapolis, also took to social media, speaking on her own behalf.
"It pains me to dissociate myself from this rally," she said in an interview Tuesday. Although she's been criticized by some for speaking out against the protest, she said disrupting the marathon is the wrong forum to get the Black Lives Matters message out. There's no connection between the runners or the marathon to the injustices such as police brutality that she's fighting against, she said.
"This puts the movement in an awful light," Oliver said. "This is being done for publicity and for disturbance sake. I can't get behind that. Our message will get lost."
Oliver said some of the runners in this race sympathize with the Black Lives Matter cause. "Maybe they weren't marching with us before, but they really aren't now. … We can't do this alone. Our communities intertwine. We have to have allies in the community," she said.
Perry Bach, part owner of Run N Fun, said some of his customers who are running the marathon are concerned about delays that the protest may cause. For some, a delay could prevent them from earning a qualifying time for the Boston marathon. For others, it's about setting a personal best.
Bach said the runners he's talked to are unified in their dismay about the protest at the marathon. "Many of the runners support their cause," Bach said. "But they're not making progress by doing this."
Jeff Metzdorff, part-owner of Mill City Running, also is hearing from concerned runners. "We could end up with two masses of people heading in different directions, meeting head on," he said. The protest could complicate getting medical help to a runner who may need help nearing the finish."
St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said Police Chief Tom Smith may address the protest issues on Wednesday.
"We are taking steps to ensure the event is safe and a success for all runners, spectators and everyone in the community who has put so much time and effort into the event," Linders said. "We respect people's rights to make their voices heard. But not at the expense of others."
Staff writer Jim Walsh contributed to this report.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788