Black Lives Matters Minneapolis is a hodgepodge group: a law professor with a long track record of outspokenness, a diversity coordinator for the city of Minneapolis and a veteran labor organizer.
Among the rest are students, teachers and community activists.
But the group’s goals broadly remain the same: Bringing awareness to the issue of police violence against blacks.
The group is planning its biggest event yet at 1 p.m. Monday, when leaders plan to take over the busy intersection of University and Snelling avenues in St. Paul and then march to the Capitol to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The group is calling the demonstration “#ReclaimMLK” and it is shaping up to be more boisterous and unpredictable than a long-standing MLK Day breakfast and march re-enactment at Macalester College earlier in the day.
Organizers said the protest was planned to coincide with MLK Day because his “life’s work was the elevation, honoring, and defense of black lives.”
Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, like its counterparts around the country, first sprouted in the wake of police shootings of unarmed black men that drew national attention and outrage. They say that many of the same tensions between police and blacks exist in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but without adequate response from local political leaders.
“We have a related policing crisis in this county where black men and children are being gunned down,” said Lena Gardner, a spokeswoman for the group. “We are raising the tension in the country so that it can no longer be ignored.”
Already, more than 2,100 people have RSVP’d via Facebook for the Black Lives Matter march, where organizers have declined to reveal the planned 4-mile protest route. Organizers say they are working with St. Paul police to ensure a peaceful day.
It was not clear whether the march is authorized by city officials. St. Paul requires a permit granted by the chief of police for public assemblies or demonstrations of more than 25 people.
A St. Paul police spokesman did not respond to a message seeking comment on Friday.
The group has proved willing to test police and local authorities, though without violence or property damage.
After being warned to stay away, roughly 3,000 protesters converged at the Mall of America in Bloomington in December and briefly shut down businesses in a corner of the mall.
Bloomington police officers in riot gear broke up the march and at least 10 are facing misdemeanor charges.
Some black leaders are urging the group to refrain from being too confrontational and potentially doing the cause more harm than good.
“Certainly Dr. King embodied the right to protest and used it to inspire social change,” said the Rev. Charles Gill, with Pilgrim Baptist Church. “We are asking that protesters honor his spirit by going through the proper channels, applying for a permit and committing themselves to protesting peacefully.”
The growing profile of Black Lives Matter comes amid a simmering national debate over police conduct that intensified after recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the killings of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York.
The group has demonstrated that it can organize quickly. Members rely on such social media sites as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Cel.ly, a site that lets users generate their own social media networks.
Eschewing traditional media and time-consuming e-mail campaigns, the group relies on social media hashtags to draw attention to their cause, organize gatherings and recruit new members. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has been used nearly 630,000 times in the past 30 days, according to social media analytics site Topsy.
Black Lives Matter burst into the public consciousness following several high profile protests, including one that shut down a stretch of Interstate 35W.
Lately, the group has gained support of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Minneapolis City Council members Alondra Cano and Cam Gordon.
Gardner, the spokeswoman for the group, said the group is combating the notion that young people don’t care deeply about social issues.
“There’s this perception out there that people aren’t willing to pay the price, so to speak,” she said.
The group’s members have been charged with crimes ranging from unlawful assembly and public nuisance to trespassing and disorderly conduct.
Like other social media phenomena, Black Lives Matter continues to rapidly evolve. The group lacks a central identifiable leader, instead being guided by a group of organizers with various ideas, goals and interests.
“Four months ago, five months ago, this group didn’t exist really as Black Lives Matter,” said Teresa Nelson, legal director for the ACLU of Minnesota. “They seem to be gaining momentum … I think they might look different in five months than they do now.”