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Has Rashad Turner done more harm than good to Black Lives Matter?

Like rock stars and preachers, some people feel best at the head of a crowd.

Like rock stars and preachers, some people feel best at the head of a crowd.

Standing on the grass at the mouth of a freeway exit off Snelling Avenue in late August, Brittani and Clayton Timmerman watched as hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters marched down the street.

For the Timmermans, a transracial family with four children who are black and white, the message of the march was something they could get behind. They hope for a world where the lives of their two adopted children are just as important as the lives of their two biological children, and that all four’s ability to succeed won’t be based on the color of their skin.

“I think protests are important and people need to stand up for what they believe in,” Clayton said. “It’s just I don’t support blocking freeway access so people are unable to move. If there are emergencies or things like that, I think it could really cause a problem.”

More and more Minnesotans are straddling that line of loving Black Lives Matter's message, but not its tactics. Of the many protests over the past year, some have rallied support by the thousands and amplified public sympathy, while others alienated, barely scraping by with a few dozen.

Between the allied Minneapolis and St. Paul chapters, subtle differences in organization have made a huge difference in turnout. In December, 3,000 people organized by the Minneapolis chapter shut down the Mall of America. Their chosen target was a giant corporation, and they looked good doing it. Standing calmly in the face of riot police certainly made for admirable civil disobedience.

Minneapolis went on to lead another 3,000-strong march through downtown for Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who had his spine crushed following his arrest. They worked to change city ordinances to decriminalize low-level offenses like spitting and lurking, timing the push with the release of large studies showing clear evidence of the city’s gaping racial disparities.

St. Paul’s chapter clearly has a different style.

Across the river, the strategy has strangely focused on disrupting The People’s events — for markedly less legitimate reasons. While the State Fair was a grand stage for making a statement, St. Paul organizer Rashad Turner initially accused the fair of racism — without having any evidence to back it up. He also failed to actually speak to fair bosses about how they might make it more diverse prior to marching up to the gates and pointing fingers at the sea of white people within. About 500 people showed.

When Gov. Mark Dayton criticized Turner for that lapse in communication – while saying he agreed with affirmative action for fair booths – Turner announced a march on Dayton’s house. They stopped outside Wild Onion, accusing the bar of unfairly turning away black people for not fitting the dress code. It was an awkward scene, considering the customers closest to the door, peering curiously out, were well-dressed black men. Only 50 marched.

About two weeks ago, Turner led a shutdown of the Lexington light rail station, where autistic 17-year-old Marcus Abrams was forcibly arrested by Metro Transit officers. Abrams’ family claims the teen was brutally beaten. Yet only 100 protesters showed in support. The timing might have had something to do with it. It was launched to block trains from reaching another People's festival, the Vikings home opener. The only people disrupted were those who can't afford parking, can't afford a car, or rely on the train just to get around, including the elderly and kids just like Abrams.

Now comes a blockade of the Twin Cities Marathon. Turner wants to create a barrier of protesters to box runners off from the finish line. Black Lives Matter could run the route en masse, earning a ton of respect by connecting with the crowd.  

Instead, we now have bigots sending death threats to Black Lives supporters, matched by supporters who will show up just to piss off the bigots. Meanwhile, the St. Paul police promise to arrest anyone threatening the safety of the runners. 

It’s a level of conversation that serves nobody, except perhaps the guy who keeps coming up with fresh ideas to get himself on TV.