When 60 Black Lives Matter protesters gathered outside the governor’s mansion Tuesday night, they were met with closed doors and drawn blinds.
Making good on their promise of shutting down Summit Avenue if they couldn't meet with the governor, the group marched into the middle of the street and circled the neighborhood for an hour and a half while police blocked off traffic in their path.
BLM took on Gov. Mark Dayton’s residence just three days after several hundred anti-police brutality demonstrators marched to the State Fair. The group chose the fair to push demands for police body cameras and professional liability insurance. At the same time, they criticized the fair for lack of diversity among its vendors, calling for an end to its colorblind application process and the creation of an affirmative action policy.
Dayton, speaking from the MPR booth last Thursday, said he agreed that the State Fair board should track the ethnicity of vendors the way that the Vikings Stadium has tracked construction workers, ensuring that 36 percent are men and women of color. “I think Black Lives Matter has brought up a very valid concern. I mean, how many of the vendors here are people of color? All the questions are very valid,” he said, before musing that it would have been more productive to making change if BLM had brought its concerns before the fair board six months in advance.
“I don’t know how it’s going to advance their cause to shut down Snelling Avenue and access to the fair and expect that that’s going to rally people to their cause," the governor finished. "So their cause is legitimate, their concern is legitimate, I just think the way they’re proposing to handle this is inappropriate.”
BLM argued that it is instead Dayton who is being inappropriate with his criticism. The outspoken governor has never addressed the movement or the individuals shot to death by police around the country, organizers say.
“Honestly we want him to reopen the Marcus Golden case,” said Chountyll Allen, an organizer with BLM St. Paul, referring to the young man shot and killed by cops in January. “We feel that was an unjust situation. That’s the bottom line to this.” She added that BLM is still waiting for Bloomington attorney Sandra Johnson to drop charges against protesters who were arrested at the Mall of America in December.
At one point, demonstrators paused at Wild Onion on Grand Avenue to call out the college bar specifically. “Wild Onion seems to profile African Americans more than any other establishment,” Allen explained, describing an overly strict dress code that only seems to only apply to African Americans. “They always have some concerns about our clothes, if they’re too baggy, but there might be a white guy standing right in front of us with the same exact outfit. They do it blatantly.”
A humid trek back to Dayton’s residence yielded silent stares from onlookers mixed with some calls of support from drivers waiting in traffic. Regrouping on the governor’s lawn, BLM heard from sisters Jacqueline Vaughn and Neenah Caldwell, who said their brother Marcus Abrams was beaten by a group of Metro Transit and St. Paul Police officers on Monday and went into a seizure. Vaughn told the crowd Abrams was dead for 15 minutes.
“He’s a mentally disabled boy,” Vaughn said, breaking down into tears. “My brother didn’t deserve this. He’s 17 years old.”
Abrams, who has autism, told family he was standing on the tracks at the University and Lexington train station when transit police approached and accused him of using drugs. He was wearing headphones and couldn't hear all their questions, he said, so the cops threw him to the ground.
The aftermath of the incident is captured on video and spreading on Facebook. Metro Transit is reviewing what happened.
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