As marathon nears, divisions deep over Black Lives Matter plans

First wave prepares to start
The first wave of runners prepared to start in the Twin Cities Marathon last year. Black Lives Matter St. Paul is planning a protest at this year's race.
Andy Clayton-King | AP 2014

A protest planned for the Twin Cities Marathon by the group Black Lives Matter St. Paul is sparking passionate arguments for and against the demonstration on social media, especially with people who plan to run the race.

Black Lives Matter leaders say the marathon is an appropriate place to air their calls for social justice. But even some runners who back Black Lives Matter's message are concerned about what tactics the group might use on race day.

Daniel Badhwa says he wouldn't mind if the group decided to protest near the marathon, but he says many runners have trained for months to prepare for the race and he fears any disruption on the route could endanger the safety of runners.

"Marathon runners are such a huge, diverse crowd, I just feel like they're making more enemies and they're taking steps backward and doing more bad than good by stepping on the actual marathon course," said Badhwa, who describes himself as biracial. "I 100 percent agree with the core message that Black Lives Matter is trying to get across. I just completely disagree with their method of doing so."

Protest organizer Rashad Turner, who is African-American, says the group plans on having a presence at the finish line. He didn't say if the group will try to prevent runners from finishing the race but adds that the point is to get runners to think about a larger issue.

"No matter how close they get in this marathon to the finish line, it's just a marathon that they won't be able to finish," Turner said. "Philip Quinn, who was recently killed by St. Paul police — his race is over, permanently."

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Organizer Rashad Turner lead a chant.
Organizer Rashad Turner led the BlackFair protesters in a chant before marching to the Minnesota State Fair, August 29, 2015.
Courtney Perry | For MPR News file

St. Paul police are still investigating a confrontation between the 30-year-old Quinn and two officers last week. According to police, the officers responded to a call of a suicidal man when one of them shot and killed Quinn.

Turner says he's not concerned that the demonstration may not be popular with some people.

"Obviously, it's going to make some people mad," he said. "But I think that's how we get to what we're looking for."

St. Paul police and marathon organizers say they're working to ensure the race will be safe for runners, spectators and demonstrators.

Steve Tannen says he's reached out on social media to the protest organizers with some alternatives to disrupting the race but that they haven't responded to his suggestions.

"One suggestion I've seen, it's not my own, but I think it's a great one: Why don't they take over one of the aid stations?" said Tannen. "Why don't they take over one of water stations and say 'hey runners, we're concerned about police brutality, but we get that you're here to run a race. Hey, here's a pamphlet, here's some water or here's your Gatorade or whatever.'"

Tannen, who's Hispanic, has run the marathon before and also worries it is not the right venue for this kind of demonstration.

"If you want to get your message out," he said, "there are positive, non-confrontational, non-violent, legal means to do that."

Badhwa said he worries violence could erupt if demonstrators try to block runners from reaching the finish line.

He said he's not sure what he'd do if someone stood in his way.