Faced with threats of bleach balloons and a visit by the Hells Angels, several hundred Black Lives Matter supporters stepped out of Hamline Park and closed down Snelling Avenue for the better part of Saturday.
Protesters, led by BLM St. Paul's Rashad Turner, demanded body cameras and personal liability insurance for all cops, as well as continuing investigation into the death Marcus Golden, shot and killed by police in January. Flanked by a heavy police escort and their own volunteer marshals, Black Lives Matter received alternating middle fingers and thumbs up from passersby and a sea of blank stares from fairgoers peering out from behind fair fences.
A one point a parking lot manager upset about loss of revenue waded partially into the crowd shouting, and an elderly man brandished his cane like a weapon. When counter-protesters tried to instigate police to "do their jobs" and shut down the non-permitted demonstration, cops were overheard telling them to back off. One passing car handed off a case of water bottles.
Protesters did not enter the fair grounds, but gathered at one closed gate off Como Aveune, pounding the fences and chanting, "Black Lives Matter." While some fairgoers crowding the other side raised their fists in support, at least one man tried to engage protesters in an argument over their classic disruption tactics of shutting down streets and interrupting mass gatherings. Ultimately no arrests were made, and after a thundering standoff at the fair entrance, protesters turned back down Snelling to debrief and disperse at Hamline Park.
There were no major traffic jams Saturday as initially feared. Tracy Zachary, a friend of Marcus Golden's family, commended the police for their rerouting of traffic around Snelling Avenue and their cordiality throughout the march. "It's nice to see police working with the community, which is what I think the ultimate goal is," she says.
Zachary said she had some reservations about protesting at the State Fair at first, but eventually came around to BLM's strategy. "The more I thought about it, it's about bringing awareness and sometimes you disrupt traffic and people's lives in order to bring about awareness," she says. "But I know that Black Lives Matter St. Paul, Minneapolis and Marcus' aunt are trying to change some of the laws and the criminal justice system, and that's what we're really passionate about. It's bigger than the fair."
The Minnesota State Fair, with its density of visitors from outside the Twin Cities, was the perfect venue to spread the group's anti-police brutality message, organizers have said. Turner also used the protest's announcement to make a point about Minnesota's economic disparities between blacks and whites, criticizing the State Fair board for not doing enough to help minority business owners obtain booths.
His comments about the fair's perceived dearth of black vendors and overabundance of black janitors put fair organizers on the defense about its colorblind application process, and even coaxed a reaction out of Gov. Mark Dayton. The governor said on Thursday that if BLM had concerns about equal opportunity for minority businesses to showcase at the fair, it should have said something months ago.
BLM's disappointment with Dayton's stance continued into Saturday.
“What we find inappropriate is the governor’s failure to address real issues facing black people in the state of Minnesota," said Miski Noor of BLM Minneapolis. "Instead of condemning the movement, Governor Dayton should be affirming that Black Lives Matter and condemning Minnesota’s worst-in-the-nation racial inequalities."