Hundreds hold peaceful protest outside State Fair
ST. PAUL — Hundreds of demonstrators held a peaceful “Black Lives Matter” protest outside the gates of the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday, the first weekend of the fair.
Protesters gathered at the fair’s Snelling Avenue entrance for speeches by organizers of Black Lives Matter St. Paul. Organizers called for body cameras on all city police officers, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
Escorted by police on bikes and horses, the demonstrators started their day with a 1.5-mile march from Hamline Park. With a drone hovering overhead, police shut down Snelling to northbound traffic and warned marchers to stay off medians for their own safety. As the throng crossed a bridge toward the fairgrounds, marchers sat or lay down on the roadway for a moment of silence.
At one point, the group deviated from its announced route and gathered in front of the gates on Como Avenue. Some protesters tried to enter the fair, but St. Paul police lined up in front of the gate to turn the marchers away, the Star Tribune reported.
The thwarted marchers then retreated to Snelling Avenue and headed to the front gates about 1:30 p.m., chanting while fair attendees observed from inside the gate. Fair officials canceled a daily parade scheduled for 2 p.m.
The group contends the fair has not been supportive of minority vendors and visitors, a claim disputed by fair officials. It also wants to raise awareness of other issues facing communities of color.
Organizer Rashad Turner said he hopes the fair protest will bring wider awareness of racial disparities, poverty and police-community relations.
“We thought the State Fair represented a venue that represented a lot of people, a lot of people from rural Minnesota, who maybe haven’t had the opportunity to get engaged or kind of hear the messages of what’s going on in the black community,” Turner said.
On their Twitter account, St. Paul police estimated the crowd at 300 to 350 and said there were no arrests or injuries.
While the march was peaceful, there was some heckling from onlookers. Around 1 p.m. police on bicycles spoke to a man who shouted and shook his cane at protesters. Another man yelled at the marchers, “All lives matter,” and Black Lives Matter marshals linked arms to separate him from the crowd.
“Our goal is to use our voices … to unite as one,” Turner told the crowd Saturday morning.
Jerry Putzir of St. Charles, whose son is showing a steer at the fair, watched Saturday’s protest from inside the fairgrounds. He said the marchers are “just hurting themselves.”
“Everyone has the right to protest but people are just fed up that they’re blocking the traffic, wrecking somebody’s business and blocking the entrances. It inconveniences,” Putzir told the Star Tribune.
Organizers also called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Marcus Golden by St. Paul police outside an apartment building in January. Police say Golden was shot by two officers when he drove a sport utility vehicle at a high speed toward one of the officers. A grand jury declined to indict the officers in May.
St. Paul officials encouraged people to visit the fair, despite the protest. Gov. Mark Dayton had said Black Lives Matter raised valid concerns about vending opportunities at the Minnesota State Fair, but he called the planned protest outside the fairgrounds “inappropriate.”
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