A second day of more reflective demonstrations drew protesters to downtown Minneapolis on Saturday night, where activists intermittently blocked vehicle and light-rail traffic to protest the acquittal of officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile.
The event, dubbed the “Solidarity March Against Police Violence and White Silence,” followed an evening rally at Loring Park that featured calls for an end to police shootings and for more minority involvement in politics.
Organizers delivered impassioned speeches about their lack of faith in America’s criminal justice system. But speakers also took a hopeful tone, urging about 200 supporters that the only way to move forward was to continue making their voices heard.
Minneapolis activist and mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds, who organized the last-minute march, spoke of how the verdict affected her and urged others to share their stories during a de facto community forum at the park. “For many of us, we face daily discomfort for the skin we’re in — skin that’s no fault of our own,” she said. “If the white majority got outraged enough about police violence, things would change.”
Despite the traffic disruptions, Saturday’s march — as well as a neighborhood meeting held in St. Paul earlier in the day — were more muted responses to the acquittal of Yanez than Friday’s protests that resulted in a tense, hourslong standoff with authorities. Organizers said the group would not attempt to march on the freeway this time around.
Samantha Pree-Stinson, a candidate for City Council in Minneapolis’ Third Ward, stressed that social justice would not come without new local leadership — or a willingness to flood voting booths. She advocated that residents support minority candidates, who truly understand the inequalities the city is seeking to address.
As the multiracial gathering got underway, protesters marched north on Hennepin Avenue, blocking cars and Metro Transit buses as they went. Every few blocks, marchers would occupy popular intersections and solicit passersby to join their cause. Just before 8 p.m., they stopped in front of the First Precinct headquarters before heading back south on Hennepin to the park.
Outside the downtown police precinct, Levy-Pounds addressed a group of bike officers, asking why their presence was necessary when several squad cars already shadowed the march. One officer said they were there to provide further security and protect pedestrians. When some in the crowd booed that response, the mayoral candidate asked them to take the officers at their word.
She then told the officers that if they are to regain trust by the community, they must speak out against the actions of others like Yanez.
Others were less optimistic.
“The system is evil to its core,” longtime activist Mel Reeves said earlier in the march. “We can’t have a relationship with folks that are trying to kill us.”
Things were far more volatile after the verdict was announced Friday afternoon, when about 2,000 people gathered on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol to protest and grieve.
Afterward, demonstrators marched toward the Cathedral of St. Paul, and despite organizers’ entreaties to stay off nearby Interstate 94, about 500 people poured onto the freeway about 10:30 p.m. and shut it down for a couple of hours.
The State Patrol arrested 18 people, including two working journalists.
In the middle of the night after the freeway standoff, some protesters returned to the Capitol, while others gathered outside the St. Paul home of Gov. Mark Dayton, according to police spokesman Steve Linders. St. Paul police did not arrest anyone Friday or Saturday, Linders said.
Another rally to honor Castile, focused on Father’s Day, is planned for Sunday afternoon in St. Anthony.
At midday Saturday, there were many questions but few answers during a community meeting at St. Paul College. About 75 people talked in small groups about Castile’s death, systemic racism, white privilege and police culture.
“How do we change?” one white woman tearfully asked the others seated at her table.
Emotions were raw, but conversations were peaceful in the windowed meeting room looking out at the State Capitol and the Cathedral.
Mayor Chris Coleman invoked both buildings in his opening address to the group, saying faith and government are both needed to make a more just society.
“Justice is not what happens in a courtroom. … Justice is what happens among people that gather together to say, ‘Never again,’ ” Coleman said.
Among those attending was Fatima Lawson, the principal of J.J. Hill elementary school, where Castile had worked as kitchen supervisor.
“I felt a need to come and hear what people have to say and also find a way for me to understand better what happened,” she said. “What I heard was very reassuring, very uplifting. I think there’s hope.”
“It’s nice to come together as a community,” said Jennifer West, a preschool teacher from Columbia Heights who attended the meeting with two educator friends. “I wish there were more ways we could come together outside of tragedy.”
Staff writer Miguel Otárola contributed to this report.