MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More than a year after being arrested and charged, the trial will begin Tuesday for several people who shut down interstates in protest of Philando Castile’s shooting death.
Police arrested 102 people after a long and sometimes violent protest on Interstate 94 in July 2016.
After plea deals and dismissals, 21 people will face trial.
Their charges include public nuisance and unlawful assembly, both are misdemeanors.
“I really believe in this. I really believe that protesting is important,” said Elise Sommers.
That mindset is what drove her to walk out onto I-94 last year.
She was one of dozens of people protesting the death of Castile as well as Alton Sterling in Louisiana, both at the hands of police. Traffic was stopped for about five hours.
Rocks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails were thrown at officers. More than 100 people were put in handcuffs. Sommers said getting arrested wasn’t part of the plan.
“When I go to a protest, what I’m working for is working towards the world that I want to live in,” Sommers said.
Sommers said that world is a place where minorities and the LGBTQ community can live without fear of police.
She hopes the jury will see the protest as an example of exercising the first amendment right.
Originally, more than 40 people arrested also faced a riot charge. A judge dropped that specific charge in January.
Still, St. Paul City Attorney Samual Clark said what the protesters did during that fateful night was dangerous and unacceptable, and that everyone on the freeway should have left after officers ordered them to leave.
“What we’re really talking about is the right of people to engage with their government in discourse,” Sommers said.
Last week, riot charges against Castile’s cousin, Louis Hunter, were also dropped in connection to the 2016 protest. Both outcomes leave Sommers feeling optimistic.
“In these two cases the courts have recognized protesting is actually a vital, important, integral part of what being a part of a democracy means,” she said.
Three of the protesters will be on trial this week. The rest are staggered out into groups of 4-5 people with the trials going on through November.