The lead organizer of a planned demonstration by Black Lives Matter outside the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday said he hopes to “keep things peaceful.”
“We’re planning on a good day,” Rashad Turner, of Black Lives Matter St. Paul, said Friday. “I’m not going to enter tomorrow with any fear.”
Black Lives Matter St. Paul plans to march along Snelling Avenue and rally outside the fair beginning at 11 a.m. to raise awareness about issues that plague black communities and also to call attention to alleged disparity issues at the fair, which organizers say has not been welcoming to minority vendors or patrons.
Local protesters are scheduled to meet at Hamline Park, then march more than a mile north along Snelling before stopping outside the fairgrounds.
The city of St. Paul plans to put extra police officers on the streets to help ensure an orderly and peaceful protest, officials said Friday.
Despite the anticipated disruption caused by the demonstration, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on Friday encouraged fairgoers not to be deterred from attending the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
“People should come to the fair tomorrow,” Coleman said at a City Hall news conference. “They should get there early. They should eat a lot of food. And if they can stay for the fireworks, they should do that. The fair is open for business. St. Paul will be open for business, and we are going to make sure that people are safe.”
Saturday marks the opening weekend of the fair, and the day is expected to be busy. Because of the anticipated congestion on Snelling Avenue, officials encouraged fairgoers to explore alternative routes to the fairgrounds.
Authorities would not discuss how they plan to handle the large crowd of demonstrators. However, St. Paul police, in past protests, have helped block off streets and rerouted traffic as protesters marched.
“There’s no indication that there is going to be any type of trouble tomorrow,” St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said.
Turner said the police chief assured him in a phone conversation Friday that officers would not arrest people for protesting, but St. Paul police late Friday denied making such a statement to Turner.
Earlier this week, a St. Paul police spokesman said he did not believe march organizers obtained a permit to hold the demonstration.
Coleman said that a scheduled meeting with organizers Friday had been canceled, but added that he hoped officials could meet with them in the future to discuss the issues that have led to the protest. Turner said his group would be interested in such a meeting.
Black Lives Matter St. Paul is a separate group from Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, which supports the protest and has staged several demonstrations throughout the Twin Cities in the past year, including one at the Mall of America. While the Minneapolis group is an official chapter of the national Black Lives Matter movement, Turner said his group still has to apply to be recognized in the same way.
Since announcing plans for the “BlackFair” protest, Turner and the St. Paul group have been blasted on social media with negative comments and even death threats. In a Facebook post Friday, the group advised rally participants to “not engage with counter-protesters or hecklers.”
State Fair officials declined to be interviewed Friday about the protest. Earlier, however, the fair’s general manager offered Black Lives Matter a booth inside the fairgrounds. Turner turned it down. He said another person secured a booth, however, and is selling Black Lives Matter materials even though he is not affiliated with Turner’s group.
Also Friday, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis issued a statement condemning comments Thursday by Gov. Mark Dayton at a forum hosted by Minnesota Public Radio. Dayton said that the protest was “inappropriate” and that organizers should have complained directly to the State Fair board months ago.
“We’re definitely going to show him tomorrow just how appropriate it is,” Turner said.