MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) – Police say more than 100 people were arrested and 21 law enforcement officials were injured overnight after a protest on Interstate 94 in response to recent police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana turned violent.
At a press conference Sunday morning, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Police Chief Todd Axtell expressed disgust and anger over the violence. City officers and State Patrol troopers had rocks, bottles and firecrackers thrown at them. Fifteen police officers and six troopers were hurt; all are expected to recover.
“It’s really a disgrace,” Axtell said. “Protesters last night turned into criminals, and I am absolutely disgusted by the acts of some, not all, but some.”
Mayor, Police Chief Express Outrage Over Violence
The protest started on the interstate Saturday night as demonstrators left the Governor’s Mansion, where they’ve gathered for several days following the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul. The 32-year-old cafeteria worker’s girlfriend live-streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, and the video quickly went viral.
Hundreds of protesters made their way onto the highway from Lexington Parkway shortly after 8 p.m. They marched to the Dale Street exit, where they were stopped by troopers and police. The protest shut down the interstate from Highway 280 to downtown St. Paul, closing traffic each way for about four hours.
Police repeatedly called for protesters to leave and warned them that they’d be subject to arrest. Around 10 p.m., they used smoke bombs to disperse the crowd, although most of the protesters remained. All throughout the protest, WCCO’s cameras captured people throwing objects at police, ranging from large rocks to rebar from a nearby construction site.
At times, police used pepper spray on the protesters. By midnight, 50 people were arrested on the interstate for third-degree riot charges. Later in the morning, another 52 people were arrested for public nuisance and unlawful assembly for attempting to get back on the interstate. The freeway reopened to traffic early Sunday.
Rashad Turner, the head of the Black Lives Matter St. Paul, condemned the violence in what he described as a mostly peaceful protest.
Interview: Rashad Turner
“It’s ridiculous, it cannot happen,” Turner said on WCCO Sunday Morning. “It’s not what we do here in St Paul, it’s not what we do in the Twin Cities. It does not honor Philando Castile.”
Turner, who was not arrested, blamed the violence on “outside agitators.” He praised St. Paul police for showing restraint, and defended the tactic of blocking off freeways.
“We need to be peaceful, we need to exercise our First Amendment rights, but that does not include harming others,” he said.
Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement following the protest in which he called the actions of the police officers “heroic” and thanked them for their professionalism. He also acknowledged the leaders of the protests, saying that they were doing their utmost to keep the demonstrations from turning violent.
“I thank everyone who has show restraint and tolerance,” the governor said.
Meanwhile, other protests occurred across the country in response to the death of Castile and the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There, the a prominent leader of the national Black Lives Matter movement, activist DeRay McKesson, was one of several people arrested Saturday night.
President Barack Obama, while on a visit Spain, addressed the recent shootings and protests. He said protesters who attack police hurt their cause and that police organizations need to acknowledge bias in order for solutions to be reached.
In Minnesota, more protests are planned for Sunday.
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