Black Lives Matter to protest at Minnesota State Fair

Black Lives Matter protesters
Black Lives Matter protesters lay down at the intersection of University and Snelling Avenues in St. Paul during a protest, Aug. 10, 2015.
Riham Feshir | MPR News file

Black Lives Matter St. Paul plans to march to the Minnesota State Fair during the event's first Saturday and attempt to interrupt business because the fair denies minorities vendor opportunities, according to the organizers.

Calling the event #BlackFair, the group said it plans to shut down streets Saturday, Aug. 29, as members call attention to their movement for justice. But it's not clear whether protesters will actually try to enter the fairgrounds.

Black Lives Matter St. Paul announced the event Thursday, one week before the State Fair's kickoff day. The group plans to begin at Hamline Park in St. Paul and march north on Snelling Avenue.

"The Minnesota State Fair profits millions of dollars every year, and every year continues to deny black and other minority business owners the opportunity of being a vendor at the fair," the group said in a statement. "Both the Minnesota State Fair and St. Paul Police Department are driven by money over people and white supremacy, which made it easy to choose the location for #BlackFair."

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State Fair officials say Black Lives Matter protesters are free to march but they need to purchase tickets before entering fairgrounds. General Manager Jerry Hammer cited a rule that prevents nonprofits and religious organizations from gathering in fixed locations within the gates.

"Once in the grounds, wear T-shirts, do whatever, that's fine," he said, "but to mobilize, to march, to congregate and do whatever they wish to do, for public safety reasons there is a rule backed by law that prohibits that."

As for the allegation the fair blocks people of color from vendor opportunities, Hammer said, the State Fair does not require applicants to identify their race. He added that he sees many minority vendors when they set up.

"That contention is really weak and it's not based on any evidence whatsoever," he said. "Actually the evidence is really strong in the other way."

Nicholas Narog of Minneapolis worked at the Minnesota State Fair for many years and attends more than once every year. He said this particular protest doesn't appear to have positive intentions.

"They want to bring about awareness of Black Lives Matter, which if you live in America and you don't live under a rock, I'm pretty sure you've heard about it," he said. "It's not about bringing awareness. Right now it's about bringing hurt on hard-working families."