Tense day as police clear Summit Avenue protesters, make arrests

Minnesota Governor's Residence protest
Protesters chant across from a line of St. Paul police officers Tuesday outside the Minnesota Governor's Residence in St. Paul.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: 8:09 p.m. | Posted: 7:23 a.m.

St. Paul police and protesters spent tense hours together Tuesday after officers cleared a protest encampment outside the governor's residence and protesters took to the street to shut down Summit Avenue.

By mid-afternoon, authorities had blamed a few protesters for extending the confrontations and said 15 were cited and released while 10 were booked. Later in the evening, the same scene: This time, with 19 arrested for public nuisance and unlawful assembly. By early Tuesday night, the St. Paul Police Department reported at least 46 arrests.

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Activists, though, questioned police tactics and said there was no reason to push out nonviolent protesters from the front of the governor's residence.

Minnesota Governor's Residence protests
Protesters camped outside the Minnesota Governor's Residence wake up to police officers shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Earlier in the day police had told the several dozen demonstrators they were an unlawful assembly and that they must leave. At that point, it did not appear to be controversial. Protesters began peacefully picking up their belongings from the street and cleaning up their coolers, mattresses and other belongings.

But it wasn't long after reopening the street that police closed it again as tensions grew with remaining protesters. Officers put on helmets and drew their batons. More demonstrators were taken into custody.

By about 12:30 p.m., the last of the remaining protesters encamped outside the mansion had cleared away.

But police and state troopers were moving in a line up Summit Avenue toward Oxford Street, pushing back protesters to clear the road. At least one protester was sprayed with a chemical irritant.

Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds accused the police of a "show of military force against unarmed peaceful protesters" and said she would not tell people to stop the protest.

Police arrest Summit Avenue protesters
Protesters arrested by police outside the governor's residence in St. Paul are lined up on the sidewalk early Tuesday evening.
Peter Cox | MPR News

"I'm not telling the people to move. They deserve to be out here," she said at one point on the protest line. "We don't need to be treated like animals and criminals when we're simply out here demanding justice for someone who didn't deserve to be killed."

At about 2:15 p.m., the police retreated and let the crowd assemble again on the sidewalk in front of the governor's mansion. State troopers remained across the street. By 6:30, the road was blocked again, and just before 7 p.m., police arrested another 19 protesters.

Demonstrators had been camping outside the governor's residence since early on July 7, a day after the shooting of Philando Castile, who was killed by a St. Anthony police officer after being pulled over in Falcon Heights. Protesters have said they won't leave until St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez is charged.

While the protests have generated an important community dialogue, demonstrators can't be allowed to block streets, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman told a late-afternoon press conference.

Minnesota Governor's Residence protest
A protester raises his hand as others chant in front of a portrait of Philando Castile outside the Minnesota Governor's Residence Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said a few protesters refused to allow Summit Avenue to open and diminished the message of the protests.

Police reopened Summit Avenue to traffic last week, and protesters were moved to the sidewalk. But on Sunday, demonstrators went back into the street.

Jacob Ladda was sleeping at the time police arrived Tuesday. He said the officers coming with batons and riot helmets in hand was another intimidating tactic.

Ladda said the strategy for this movement is starting to "wake people up," but it needs to happen quicker.

"We've had 60 years of American distractions to say there is no problem in this country," he said. "We have to use that energy to convince Americans that there is a problem."

MPR News reporters Riham Feshir, Evan Frost and Cody Nelson contributed to this report, as did the Associated Press.