Lord Have Mercy.
The activists identified themselves as nonblacks who are stepping up on behalf of Black Lives Matters.
A few dozen protesters blocked all southbound lanes of Interstate 35W at University Avenue in Minneapolis at the peak of the morning commute Wednesday, the latest public disruption in the wake of last week’s police killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights.
There were 41 arrests made starting about 45 minutes into the demonstration just north of downtown, and the interstate was reopened after 90 or so minutes.
Roughly 40 to 50 demonstrators, accompanied by a handful of vehicles, took over the freeway around 7:50 a.m. According to police scanner reports, some were banging on driver’s windows and causing damage.
In a matter of minutes, southbound traffic on the main north-south highway in the state’s largest city came to a halt and started backing up for miles.
In holler and response came the demonstrators’ chant: “Who shut this down?” And the reply, “We shut this down!”
A separate group of protesters gathered briefly in the atrium of the Star Tribune building to protest what they call racist coverage of the shooting deaths and Black Lives Matter. Several dozen people chanted and held up signs in the building, part of the Capella Tower complex in downtown Minneapolis. There were no arrests.
A statement issued by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis said the activists on the freeway make up “a coalition of white people and non-Black people of color [acting] in solidarity with the movement for Black lives, condemning the ongoing killings of Black people by police in the Twin Cities and across the country.”
Coalition spokesperson Oluchi Omeoga, who is black, told the Star Tribune later Wednesday, “We really want to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. We are tired of fighting for our rights. We need other people to fight for our rights as well.”
Omeoga described the coalition members as “white allies” of Black Lives Matter and said it is “awesome that nonblack people have stepped up for us.”
A state trooper arrived on the freeway about 8 a.m. and notified the protesters that “if you do not leave, you will be arrested. You are being warned.” A couple of dozen or more squad cars to the north and south of the protesters sealed off the lanes and took up other positions nearby.
Metro Transit buses arrived to pick up protesters upon arrest. Flatbed trucks towed away the protesters’ vehicles that were parked perpendicular to the highway. In support, spectators on overpasses and closed freeway ramps took up the chanting.
Along with the arrests made on the interstate, four vehicles impounded, the State Patrol said. “They will be charged appropriately for their actions, which endangered the motoring public,” said Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow.
Patrol Col. Matt Langer said his agency “supports the right to exercise one’s First Amendment rights, but the freeway is not the place to do so,” said Col. Matt Langer, Minnesota State Patrol Chief.
Langer called the blockade “unacceptable” given that the highways “are used by everyone and are an artery for emergency vehicles.”
The I-35W protesters strung themselves across the southbound lanes, holding hands and going through a series of chants, with a man on a loudspeaker leading them.
“The whole damn system is guilty as hell … No justice, no peace, prosecute the police,” were among the messages being screamed.
With 35W backed up to the Hwy. 36 commons in Roseville — roughly 4 miles — motorists used Hwy. 280 to proceed south. However, road construction on that highway prompted a massive tie-up there, too.
At one time, the State Patrol sent traffic the wrong way up an I-35W entrance ramp at University Avenue to help clear out the queue.
Along with people in personal vehicles being stopped by the protest, about a dozen Metro Transit buses caught in the traffic tie-up were “significantly delayed” said spokesman Drew Kerr. Delays ranged from 30 to 45 minutes. Buses were detoured off the I-35W at 4th Street, but there was considerable congestion getting into downtown,” he said.
Saturday night and into Sunday morning, hundreds of protesters blocked both of directions Interstate 94 near Lexington Avenue, leading to roughly four dozen arrests. One person, a cousin of Philando Castile, was charged with a felony riot count.
The same tactic was used on occasion by protesters in the Twin Cities in the wake of the police shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark on a north Minneapolis street in November. Clark, a black man, was shot by a white officer during a physical struggle. Authorities investigated, and state and federal prosecutors declined to charge the officer.
Castile, a black man from St. Paul, was shot after being pulled over in a car. The aftermath of the shooting by a St. Anthony police officer was caught on video by his girlfriend in the car with him. The officer, who is Hispanic, said on the video that he directed Castile to keep his hand off the gun he had with him. His girlfriend said he was reaching for his wallet when asked for identification.
The shooting is being investigated by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and officer has been placed on paid administrative leave.