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Students walk out to join Black Lives Matter rally, protests

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Hundreds Twin Cities high school students were among those who gathered at Martin Luther King Park in Minneapolis to protest against prosecutions stemming from earlier protests at the Mall of America, Friday, May 1, 2015.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Updated: 6:08 p.m. | Posted: 11:31 a.m.

Hundreds of Twin Cities students left their classrooms Friday to demonstrate in support of people who face charges for their activism and to decry the killings of black people by police.

By the end of the day, the rally organized by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis also attracted adults and became a march in solidarity with immigrants.

It began late in the morning as Twin Cities high school students left classes for a noon rally at Martin Luther King Park in Minneapolis to protest against prosecutions stemming from December protests at the Mall of America.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis posted video on its Facebook page of students and others gathered at the park chanting "Hey hey, ho ho, these racist cops have got to go."

By 1 p.m., as many as 600 students from different schools had arrived at the park, where organizers had placed tables with chips and hotdogs. In intermittent rain, they listened to speeches — and made their voices heard.

A crowd gathered.
A crowd gathered together for a rally in Martin Luther King Park in Minneapolis, Friday, May 1, 2015
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Desmond Crofford, a black student from Plymouth Youth Academy, said he came to the rally because he wanted to support his community.

As dozens of students chanted "black lives matter," Crofford said he thinks the deaths of people after confrontations with police are not being taken seriously.

"I mean you just can't kill a person and say, 'that's nothing,'" he said.

Jordan McKinney, an 18-year-old student from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, said young people don't want such deaths to occur in Minnesota.

Protests like the one in the park are needed to help spread the message that the violence must stop, said Sarah Leone, a senior at Cristo Rey.

"I think it's really bad that we have to do this, that the government doesn't want to take action," said Leone, 18. "And if we do this it can make a change like in Martin Luther King's time."

Malik Curtis, a senior at St. Paul Central was wearing an "I can't breathe" T-shirt at the rally, referring to the death of Eric Garner in New York City. As a black teenager, Curtis said he came to the protest to show his support for Black Lives Matter.

A large crowd
A large crowd rallied together in Martin Luther King Park in Minneapolis, Friday, May 1, 2015.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

"It's just simple — of us being oppressed for so many years, and solidarity with Baltimore," Curtis said. "I'm with my people, that's pretty much it... I'm just really tired of it. This is the society we live in and hopefully, we can overcome it."

Dizzy Fae, a 16-year-old student at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, said she is looking towards the future.

"I find it extremely essential to embrace unity as one, and people coming together, for people to create and make change," Fae said. "It's time to start thinking about the aftermath."

When word began to spread that six Baltimore police officers faced charges in the recent death of Freddie Gray, reaction was varied. Sixteen-year-old Alysha Hayslett, another student at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, said that case speaks to a larger set of issues.

"I think that's a good start for how things are going," she said of the charges. "But I hope there's more because there's just so much more problems than that that need to be solved."

High school students joined others rallying.
High school students joined others rallying at Martin Luther King Park in Minneapolis to protest against prosecutions stemming from earlier protests at the Mall of America.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Organizer Asha Long said the gathering was designed to attract a wide range of people working on other issues.

"We've come here to celebrate and support everyone's causes, there are so many groups that are coming together to fight for their causes, but our liberation is bound in each other's."

Not everyone at the rally was young. Ricardo Levins Morales, 58, traces his protest activities to 1969 when he was a Chicago high school student and joined others protesting the police killing of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

Levins Morales attended the rally to support young people who he said are stepping onto the stage of history.

"Is property rights sacred and black lives disposable or is it the other way around?" he said. "I simply want to make clear which side of that line I stand on."

Wanda Frazier, 75, of Edina also came to support the teenagers at the park. Frazier dates her civil rights activism to growing up in Ohio where she said she was chased by police dogs and doused by water hoses.

A retired registered nurse, Frazier laments the refusal by some to acknowledge and deal with what she calls the country's systemic racism.

"We as African-Americans know that, and some white people do," she said. "But then some people choose to put their head in the sand, or they don't want to be bothered, or they don't want to deal with all these people of color."

Many of the students at the Minneapolis rally showed a clear understanding of what they were a part of. Amairani Gallegos Catana, a 17-year-old student at El Colegio, a south Minneapolis charter school, said she hopes the rally draws attention to the people who will shape the country.

"We are the future for this country, even though people don't want to accept that," she said. "They are afraid of change."

After leaving the park, the students marched down Nicollet Avenue to Kmart to join a protest for workers by the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee. There, participants in both demonstrations chanted "black and brown together." The two groups then began to march downtown to the Hennepin County Government Center. By the time they arrived downtown, many of the students had left.

Minneapolis school officials said they anticipated walkouts today by high school and even some middle school students. The district  said in a statement that it "respects students' First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. We will not discipline students for the act of protesting as long as the protest remains peaceful. However, if students walk out of school, they will not be able to return to the school for the remainder of the day and they may receive an unexcused absence."

District officials also said they typically do not allow unexcused students to take part in after school activities but would make an exception today since it's "National Law Day," and because "we recognize that this protest is reflective of a broader, national issue and movement concerning civil rights."

That's what organizers of the rally had in mind.

Lena K. Gardner, another organizer for Black Lives Matter, said seeing so many young people in the park was "a beautiful thing."

Much of the work protest leaders do, she said, is with young people in mind.

"A lot of the work we do is for them, so that when they're my age, they don't have to be out in the streets marching," Gardner said.

She called the wave of protests against police brutality across the nation the start of "the Black Spring."

"We are launching today, and we are just going to keep fighting for justice," Gardner said. "We want to see changes, and Minnesota is no exception. We have some of the worse racial disparities in the country and it needs to stop."

MPR News' Riham Feshir contributed to this report.