PHOTO GALLERY: Protesters Shut Down 35W
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Two racially-charged cases garnering national attention prompted protesters to fill the streets of Minneapolis Thursday.
A protest against the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases spilled onto Interstate 35W just south of downtown Minneapolis.
The protesters blocked all of the northbound lanes, causing traffic backup for miles. The crowd eventually ended up at Minneapolis City Hall.
No arrests were made as the group disrupted the day in an effort to have their message heard.
This is one of many protests nationwide that heated up again after Wednesday’s grand jury decision not to charge a white police officer in the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, in New York’s Staten Island.
About 150 people — representing several different organizations — chose to march down I-35W, as well as downtown streets, to make people stop and think about these cases and about what can be done to improve police relations with the black community, and the justice system.
“It’s a matter of getting visibility. You know, there should not be a comfort level in America where people can just go to work and act like this is not going on,” said protester Stephanie B. “This is our families, this is our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, our children — and they’re getting shot in the street.”
Protester Mel Reeves says he agrees with the young people involved in this movement.
“Now we have to stop pretending. We clearly do have a problem. Those who believe in the system have to acknowledge there’s, at the very least, there’s something seriously wrong,” Reeves said.
University of St. Thomas Law Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds says people are fed up.
“We’re tired of people going about their daily lives where literally the lives of African America boys and men are on the line, and we’re being told to stay back, remain invisible and remain silent,” Levy-Pounds said.
The protest backed up traffic for miles, and left drivers stranded in their cars for nearly an hour. Organizers admit that was their plan, no matter who had to wait.
“We were definitely, like, pushing to set the city back,” said organizer Michael McDowell. “It’s the busiest highway, or freeway, in our state and we want to raise awareness so the folks who are sitting in traffic, they have to watch us walk by with our Eric Garner signs and our ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs.”
People took to social media to express their opinions. One person tweeted: “why aren’t these people being arrested? It’s illegal to walk on the freeway! Put them in jail!!!”
State Patrol vehicles helped guide the protesters up 35W and into the streets of Minneapolis. They told WCCO it’s illegal and extremely dangerous to walk on the freeway, but this was a different kind of situation.
“The safest and fastest way to clear the roadway was to keep the demonstrators moving and have them exit the interstate,” said Lt. Col. Matt Langer, acting chief of the State Patrol.
The group ended up at Minneapolis City Hall, where they laid down inside to further their push to fix what they call a broken criminal justice system.
State Patrol says arresting more than 100 people on the interstate would have taken longer and would have been more dangerous than letting them walk off on their own.
Organizers say the “Black Lives Matter” group formed in Minnesota about two days ago at the request of protesters.
Earlier Thursday, some members of this group also joined in a minimum wage rally near a Burger King in Minneapolis. That group was calling for an increase in wages to $15 an hour.
On Nov. 25, a protest in Minneapolis over the Ferguson decision turned violent when two cars drove through crowds of people marching, injuring one woman.