Their goal on Sunday was to block Metro Transit’s Green Line to bring attention to the case of Marcus Abrams, a 17-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome who was injured by transit police last month in St. Paul.
“We’re here to shut them down!” about 100 Black Lives Matter protesters chanted in unison.
The Green Line trains didn’t run for a few hours between the Dale Street and Hamline Avenue stations, a section that included the Lexington Parkway station where Abrams was arrested and where Sunday’s protest started. Thousands of Vikings fans use the Green Line to get to games at TCF Bank Stadium, including Sunday’s home opener at noon.
Since Metro Transit knew about the protest in advance, it diverted light-rail passengers onto buses running on Thomas Avenue, a few blocks north of the usual Green Line route along University Avenue.
“From our viewpoint, everything went well,” said Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla. “We appreciated that their voices needed to be heard, and that certainly was done.”
A heavy police presence watched the protesters from a distance. Squads blocked University Avenue and a few cross streets and redirected traffic at Hamline.
A few light-rail riders in Vikings purple who didn’t know about the diversion waited at the Hamline station.
“They have no right to disrupt traffic,” one man said. “They can protest on the sidewalk.”
Kevin Adams was taking his mom, Shirley, visiting from Virginia, to her first NFL game.
“Being delayed 20, 30 minutes isn’t a big deal,” Kevin Adams said shortly before 11 a.m. “I just don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
The protesters shouted loudly but behaved peacefully, even while a few hecklers and counter-protesters tried to disrupt the march.
A white man carrying an American flag and a black man carrying a Confederate flag stood about 50 feet away, at one point engaging in a brief confrontation with an elderly man angered by the Confederate flag. Black Lives Matter St. Paul organizer Rashad Turner quickly stepped in to defuse the situation and told supporters to ignore those men and a few others itching for a fight.
Abrams spoke briefly at the protest, as did his mother, Maria Caldwell, and one of two friends who were with him on Aug. 31.
The teenager said he was headed home from work; he builds boats by hand. He was on the tracks with his headphones on when a transit officer asked him a question.
“I said ‘I’m 17 and I don’t have no ID.’ ” He remembered being thrown onto the ground.
“I said ‘Get off me!’ ” he said. “I woke up again in the hospital. They didn’t want my mom to come back [to the room]. They didn’t let her through.”
His friend said a passerby “had to call the cops on the cops in order to get him help.”
Abrams said he had a split lip and injuries to his hands and head. He was released without being charged with any crime.
“I realize that I’m not alone in this,” he told the crowd. “I thank everybody for coming.”
“You’re not alone,” a voice shouted from the group.
Caldwell decried officers’ conduct toward people with disabilities.
“You aren’t being treated as human beings when you are disabled,” she said. “I’d rather be a black person walking down the street than a disabled person walking down the street. It’s just terrible out here.”
Members of the Black Lives Matter group walked west from the Lexington station to the Hamline station, where they staged a four-minute die-in. Officers on horseback, on bicycles and in cars followed. The group members then walked a block or so south to the Western District police station, where they joined hands in a big circle and chanted slogans.
Nora Murphy brought her 7-year-old son, Shiya, to the protest.
Black Lives Matter is the first cause she’s ever joined, Murphy said. “This is probably our 10th demonstration.
“Shiya is mixed-race, so a lot of people in our family are black,” she said. “Shiya always says he’s too tired. Blacks don’t get to be too tired to be black for one day.”
Murphy said she was impressed by the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement and by the “peaceful, intelligent disruption” the movement fosters.
“We don’t want our message to be tainted with confrontation,” said Jason Sole of St. Paul, a professor of criminal justice at Hamline University.
From the police station, the protesters returned to the light-rail tracks and to Lexington. By then, their numbers had dwindled to about 50 people. There were more chants and more speeches. When Turner announced the Vikings kickoff had happened shortly after noon, the group disbanded.
At 12:40 p.m., Metro Transit announced that the Green Line was back in service.