Black Lives Matter group aims to #ReclaimMLK with march to Capitol

Hands up, don't shoot
A marcher kneels with his hands of the air in protest as Minnesota state troopers block the westbound entrance to I-94 West at Snelling Avenue.
Angela Jimenez / For MPR News

Updated: 6 a.m. Jan. 20 | Posted: 12:40 p.m. Jan. 19

Hundreds of marchers jammed University Avenue and nearby streets for about four hours Monday, as they called for an end to racial profiling, an independent citizen board to review police conduct, and bias and cultural awareness training for police officers.

Marchers celebrated Martin Luther King Day with a walk from Snelling and University avenues to the State Capitol steps, where they listened to speeches and chanted protests.

They also remembered Marcus Golden, 24m who was killed by St. Paul police Wednesday. Police were answering a 911 call about death threats to a resident of an apartment building.

Family and friends of Marcus Golden
The event was attended by the family of Marcus Golden, who was killed by St. Paul police officers last week. At center is Golden's brother, Blake Golden.
Angela Jimenez / For MPR News

Golden's friends and family talked of a caring person who would drop everything to help someone.

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His mother, Ericka Cullars-Golden, told people attending the rally that her son loved sports, video games and had a great smile. "He will always be missed and so loved. And although today was a cloudy day, his infectious smile still came through," she told the crowd.

Lena Gardner of Black Lives Matter said the event helped focus attention on key issues. "We 're creating the sort of tension that we hope elevates our message that black lives matter. We want to see a change in the way things are for black people on the streets. We want to see a change in the way they police our community."

Gardner estimated about 2,000 people took part in the march. Police had no estimate, but said no one was arrested.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis released a list of demands a few days before the march. Among other things, the group wants an independent community board with disciplinary power to review police actions and bias and cultural competency training for Minnesota officers.

Added to that list was a call for statewide adoption of police body cameras, which are already being used in Duluth and tested in Minneapolis.

Moved by the march
Tammy Curtis of St. Paul is moved to tears while participating in the #ReclaimMLK march.
Angela Jimenez / For MPR News

The group also wants Bloomington's city attorney to drop charges against more than 30 people charged in connection with a protest at the Mall of America the weekend before Christmas. Authorities have said they'll continue prosecuting the trespassing cases because the mall is private property.

But Minnesota U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, at a separate Martin Luther King event earlier in the day, said meaningful civil rights changes — for blacks, women and same-sex couples — have only come through the disruption of social norms.

The Democratic Congressman didn't name the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis group but lauded protesters fighting for racial equality.

"They're putting their lives on the line," he said. "And sometimes they disrupt traffic; they make a lot of noise. They're trying to get our attention."

Early in the walk, marchers paused to hold a brief "die-in" on the Hamline Avenue overpass above Interstate 94 as they made their way from St. Paul's Midway neighborhood toward the Minnesota State Capitol.

The group, organized by the Black Lives Matter movement, chanted "We will take 94" as they diverged from the original route they had publicized — down University Avenue from Snelling Avenue to the Capitol — and headed for the interstate. But dozens of state troopers blocked entrance ramps. Traffic on the highway was nonetheless briefly shut down.

Gardner said protesters didn't want a confrontation with state troopers. "The state troopers shut down the highway. So, we felt like we were successful getting our message there: that black lives matter," she said.

The march began at the intersection of University and Snelling avenues in St. Paul on Monday afternoon to join in Black Lives Matter's #ReclaimMLK marches across the country.

Adja Gildersleve joins in the impromptu dancing.
Adja Gildersleve, 26, center, joins in some impromptu dancing in the march organized by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.
Angela Jimenez / For MPR News

First, the group maneuvered south on Snelling Avenue toward the highway. Police officers initially attempted to redirect the crowd back toward University Avenue, but soon relented and allowed them to continue on their new route.

By just past 2 p.m., they had turned east on Concordia Avenue, toward downtown St. Paul. Minnesota State Patrol officers, blocking the entrance to the highway at Snelling Avenue, urged marchers to continue east toward downtown St. Paul on Concordia Avenue, which runs parallel to the highway.

Marchers and state patrol officers locked in a brief face-off. The marchers continued down Concordia.

The Black Lives Matter group organized a high-profile demonstration at the Mall of America last month and another that closed parts of Interstate 35W in December.

Metro Transit reported delays on its Green Line light rail route during the first hour of the march, but announced just before 2 p.m. that all trains were moving freely.

The march was personal for many. Dominique Burch, a 17-year-old marcher, said she participated in the Martin Luther King Day protest because she feels uneasy around police. Burch said she wants her brother to be able to walk down city streets without being harassed.

On a day dedicated to celebrating a civil rights leader, many said Minnesota and the nation as a whole still have far to go before minorities can feel truly equal to their white peers.

"If we keep focused and don't get sidetracked, this could be the start of something good," said Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul branch of the NAACP.

The #ReclaimMLKmn route