A collective Twin Cities sigh of relief occurred Thursday when St. Paul’s mayor and Black Lives Matter leaders came to terms. After meeting for more than two hours behind closed doors, Mayor Chris Coleman and BLM St. Paul organizer Rashad Turner agreed on a good compromise that will allow Sunday’s Twin Cities Marathon to proceed without disruption. Demonstrators will have a place to protest at the end of the popular race, and runners and spectators won’t have to worry about dodging protesters along the course or near the finish line.
The meeting was held after the St. Paul group said it planned on “shutting down” the marathon to raise awareness of recent incidents involving St. Paul police and people of color. But city officials rightly responded that they would not allow that kind of disruption at an event that can draw more than 11,000 runners from around the state and country.
Earlier this week, St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith warned of consequences, including arrests, for anyone who got in the way of the race. Officials could not allow the risk to public safety. Because of health issues that can occur with runners, especially toward the end of the race, medical professionals must have access to those in need along the course.
A large segment of the general public was outraged about the possibility that protesters would interfere with the race. As one Star Tribune letter writer pointed out, even runners and spectators who support BLM’s mission disagreed with the planned tactics. The threat raised concerns that runners would be blocked from finishing the race, which is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.
And leaders of the Minneapolis BLM chapter said the threat to disrupt the marathon put the movement “in an awful light” and interfered with getting its message out. The Minneapolis organization is affiliated with the national Black Lives Matter organization; the St. Paul group is not.
We hope that the St. Paul BLM has learned an important lesson from the marathon compromise. The agreement reached with Coleman and the police should be a model for any future protests.
So far, the St. Paul group has convened peacefully at well-attended events or places, busy streets or intersections. The group staged events at Lexington and University avenues and at the Minnesota State Fair to voice concerns and raise awareness. Its goals are laudable. More should be done to change the way African Americans and others have been treated by some police officers. And racial disparities in health, education, housing and employment also need attention.
Still, it is more harmful than helpful to state that the purpose of a demonstration is to shut down a beloved public event. Disruption is not the same as raising awareness.
Purposeful disruption will do little to change police practices or narrow disparities. Rather, it can alienate the same people the Black Lives Matter movement wants to reach. It is conversations like the one between Coleman and Turner that can lay the foundation for much-needed change.