Gov. Mark Dayton met this week with members of Minnesota’s Black Lives Matter movement, vowing to help them fight racial disparities but also raising safety concerns following last week’s protest that blocked traffic to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The DFL governor “heard from the leaders present their sense of urgency for policies, programs and funding to eliminate the serious economic disparities faced by black Minnesotans and other people of color in Minnesota,” according to a statement from Dayton spokesman Linden Zakula.
The meeting happened Monday at the governor’s residence in St. Paul.
“Governor Dayton also expressed his deep concern for protecting the safety of all Minnesotans, and he stressed the dangers caused by blocking access to the region’s major international airport,” Zakula said.
The six participants in Monday’s meeting affiliated with Black Lives Matter — Anthony Newby, Kandace Montgomery, Miski Noor, Adja Gildersleeve, Michael McDowell and Pastor Danny Givens Jr. — either declined to comment for this story or did not return phone and e-mail messages.
The Dec. 23 protest started at the Mall of America in Bloomington, then moved onto light-rail trains and ended up at the airport on one of the year’s busiest travel days.
Protesters briefly shut down the road to Terminal 1 at the main Hwy. 5 entrance; airport officials said that delayed some flights. Law enforcement officers arrested 13 protesters, but there were no reports of injury or property damage.
A statement from Black Lives Matter afterward said that the mall protest had been a “decoy” and that the airport was the real target.
Black Lives Matter activists have engaged in a series of protests since the Nov. 15 fatal shooting by Minneapolis police of Jamar Clark, including a dayslong occupation of the Fourth Precinct police station on the city’s North Side. The day after Clark’s shooting, protesters shut down traffic on Interstate 94 north of downtown Minneapolis for more than two hours; 51 people were arrested.
A few days after those events, Dayton met with representatives of the protesters, along with NAACP officials. This week’s meeting was planned as a follow-up to the November meeting.
Dayton supported the call for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Clark’s shooting, and that is now ongoing; he also viewed a video from the scene of Clark’s shooting, which activists want released; he called it inconclusive.
On Wednesday, Dayton met separately with a handful of leaders of local NAACP chapters.
At both meetings, Dayton — who was joined by top aides and representatives from some state agencies — discussed possible legislative initiatives aimed at erasing well-documented economic disparities between white and nonwhite Minnesotans.
Zakula said Dayton told the NAACP leaders that he would work with them to line up state funding for a satellite office of the state Department of Human Rights in St. Cloud and that he would get behind an independent performance audit of the state’s affirmative-action policies, procurement practices and enforcement of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Issue for special session?
Dayton has been calling for a special legislative session in January to take action on racial disparities, ahead of the regular session that starts March 8. The issue is also likely to be on the table during the regular session.
So far, Republicans who hold the majority in the Minnesota House have not signed off on a special session.
At the meeting with the Black Lives Matter activists, Dayton reiterated his support of the right to protest and “his understanding of the urgency leaders felt to redress those grievances,” Zakula said.
But Dayton said that had to be balanced with the safety of all Minnesotans, particularly when demonstrations block traffic on highways and major thoroughfares, Zakula said.