Law enforcement officials arrested more than 600 people after protesters blocked Interstate 94 in Minneapolis late Wednesday and early Thursday.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) said the arrests by State Patrol troopers and city police were necessary to clear the interstate of a people who stopped freeway traffic.
“No force or chemicals were used, and no protesters or law enforcement officers were injured during the incident,” the DPS said in a statement issued Thursday.
However, videos on social media showed Minneapolis police releasing pepper spray at least once and two officers using a bicycle to push back demonstrators who had congregated near the freeway.
Marchers gathered early Wednesday evening for a protest, led by multiple local organizations, dubbed “Don’t Let Trump Steal the Election.” Marchers went from downtown streets to I-94, where they caused closure of the freeway from Interstate 35W east to Hwy. 280. The interstate was cleared and reopened at 1:23 a.m. Thursday, the DPS said.
The agency said 646 people were cited, arrested and released. Six vehicles were towed.
“State law makes it illegal for pedestrians, bicyclists or other nonmotorized traffic to be on a freeway. In addition, walking on the freeway is very dangerous for pedestrians and drivers, especially after dark,” the DPS statement said.
The march was organized by the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, which said it had nearly 1,000 participants.
Organizers painted a far more critical picture of law enforcement’s response to the protest.
Troopers and police officers “moved in, without any warning, and refused to let them leave the freeway exit,” the coalition said in a statement. “Some were detained and are currently unaccounted for.”
DPS spokesman Bruce Gordon responded that every marcher arrested was released from custody “once everyone could be cited.”
March organizers are demanding that all charges against the marchers be dropped and that the seized vehicles be returned without fees.
Protesters took those demands to the governor’s residence late Thursday afternoon on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, with speakers expressing themselves by microphone in sometimes profane terms about cases in the state involving people of color dying during encounters with police in recent years. Supporters stood behind the speakers holding “Drop the Charges” signs and chanting the phrase.
Organizers praised the marchers for staying “calm and organized, holding the space with speeches, chants, and a marathon dance party. … Meanwhile, the MN political establishment allowed police to detain protesters trapped on the highway for more than five hours after the scheduled end of the protest.”
Asked about keeping marchers from leaving, Gordon said pedestrians being on the freeway “is illegal and extremely dangerous for pedestrians and drivers.”
The march’s theme largely was to protest President Donald Trump’s ongoing legal challenges to vote-counting in a few states where he’s locked in a tight battle with Democrat Joe Biden, as well as to address “the triple pandemic of racism, COVID-19, and recession,” organizers said.