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41 arrests after 'non-black' coalition shuts I-35W during morning rush

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Protesters take a seat before being arrested.
Protesters sit holding hands and linking arms as Police and State Patrol move in to make arrests during a protest on 35-W South in Minneapolis on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: 5:30 p.m. | Posted: 8:08 a.m.

Authorities reopened traffic on southbound I-35W Wednesday at about 9:15 a.m. after protesters lined up across the interstate near downtown to protest police shootings.

The Minnesota State Patrol arrested 41 protesters after about an hour on the freeway. Troopers towed away four cars that had initially blocked traffic.

"The State Patrol supports the right to exercise one's First Amendment rights, but the freeway is not the place to do so," Minnesota State Patrol Chief Col. Matt Langer said in a statement.

Protesters shut down I-35W
Protesters lined up across the new bridge near downtown at about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Transportation

"The closure of an interstate freeway for the purposes of a demonstration is unacceptable. They are used by everyone and are an artery for emergency vehicles," he said.

In a statement distributed earlier in the morning by Black Lives Matter, a group calling itself the "Coalition to Wake Your Ass Up" said the shutdown "reinforces our belief that our comfort and business as usual must be disrupted until substantive changes occur in our city and throughout the country."

Protesters line up on I-35W
Protesters sit down on southbound Interstate 35W near downtown Minneapolis Wednesday morning.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Members of the group, which describes itself as "non-black people committed to highlighting the voices of black organizers," declined to comment themselves about the action, instead referring all questions to Black Lives Matter Minneapolis spokesperson Oluchi Omeoga.

Wednesday's action was inspired by protesters' closing of Interstate 94 in St. Paul over the weekend, Omeoga said.

"Our goal is to definitely have some visibility around the discrimination that black people are going through, especially with police brutality," Omeoga said.

Protesters organized volunteer medics to be on the scene and Omeoga said protesters took other measures to try to prevent any injuries during the closing of the interstate.

"Cars actually blocked off the ramps so that other cars can't get in," Omeoga said. "Then we had actually cars block off the front end so that they start slowing down, and then the people can actually get on the road."

Protests against police were rekindled last week after Philando Castile was fatally shot by a St. Anthony officer during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.

Omeoga said shutting down the interstate is meant as a "conversation starter" for the broader public.

"Yeah, this is a slight inconvenience on your day, maybe 10, 15 minutes," Omeoga said. "Philando's family is inconvenienced for the rest of their lives."

The State Patrol didn't say what charges protesters face.

The 46 protesters arrested on Interstate 94 over the weekend have been charged by the St. Paul City Attorney's office with third-degree riot, which is a gross misdemeanor. They were also charged with public nuisance and unlawful gathering.

Omeoga said everyone who was arrested on Wednesday morning was "down to get charged with whatever they get charged with," but didn't think it would rise to the level of rioting charges because Wednesday's action was nonviolent.