Activists highlight the poor as rich party at Super Bowl

Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder or the American Indian Movement, speaks.
In this Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, photo, Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder or the American Indian Movement, speaks on at Minneapolis City Hall about activists' plans for protests during the Super Bowl.
Amy Forliti | AP

Social activists say Minneapolis is turning into a playground for the rich during Super Bowl week, and critics are using the spectacle to rally against economic injustice such as the displacement of dozens of homeless people, and the police shootings of blacks that spawned player protests at some NFL games.

Activists say the Super Bowl represents the pinnacle of corporate greed with its expensive ticket prices, lavish parties and exclusive dinners. They note that as wealthy football fans are celebrating, dozens of homeless people are displaced because their shelter was inside the secure area around U.S. Bank Stadium.

"There is a full section of our community that sees the Super Bowl not as a party, but as a problem," said Jess Sundin, an organizer for a coalition of community groups who are speaking out against racism and corporate greed.

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee says it's focused on putting on a safe and successful festival where all are welcome and everyone is respected. Super Bowl Live, one of the main attractions surrounding the game, is free and open to the public. The host committee has also used this opportunity to give out about $5 million in community grants — most to help children living in poverty and kids of color.

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"We have worked with local public safety officials and community stakeholders for more than two years to create a welcoming environment ... and we invite all Minnesotans to come and share in the excitement," host committee spokesman Michael Howard said in a statement.

But local activists say the event makes the city inaccessible to most. Planned actions this week include a march and rally outside U.S. Bank Stadium before Sunday's game to protest corporate greed and racism. The Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter also plans rallies to demand renter's rights, living wages and the renewal of a program to protect young immigrants from deportation.

One group called Take a Knee Nation is holding a two-day conference against police violence.

The Minneapolis area has seen some high-profile police shootings in recent years, including the 2016 killing of Philando Castile by a St. Anthony officer and the 2017 killing of Justine Ruszczyk in Minneapolis. Take a Knee Nation organizer Mel Reeves said the conference is designed to educate people about race, police violence and the right to protest.

Mothers who have lost their children to police violence, including Castile's mother Valerie, will speak. Student athletes who have suffered consequences for taking a knee will also be part of the conference.

Reeves said the event is an outgrowth of what former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick started last season when he knelt during the national anthem to bring more attention to the killings of black men by police officers. The protests spread this season after Kaepernick was unable to sign on with another team.

Reeves said his group wants police who harm citizens to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and he called for all police shooting cases nationwide to be re-opened.

"One of these days we are going to have a more equitable society," Reeves said. "It's going to happen. But you sure won't get it if you don't ask for it."

The Take a Knee Nation conference will be held Saturday and Sunday and end with a rally outside U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Minneapolis area has a history of vigorous protests, including some that have shut down interstates in the wake of Castile's shooting. While community organizers say they aren't planning any disruptions during Super Bowl week, Miski Noor of the Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter said "we're not discouraging anyone from pursuing a different way forward."

Noor said the Super Bowl has put marginalized communities in danger and highlights the militarization of police departments.

"They're calling it a national security event," Noor said. "It's a national security crisis that they created without our consent."

While activists demand an end to police violence, Sundin said the coalition is also calling for economic justice, noting that Super Bowl ticket holders will be the only riders allowed to use the light rail on game day for security purposes. Local riders are instead being offered free bus service.

"We don't want our cities to be playgrounds for billionaires," Sundin said.

Some activists are also calling for changes to team names that some find offensive.

Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, was among those who protested the 1992 Super Bowl in Minneapolis, when the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills. He is still calling for the Redskins name to be changed.

His group plans to rally Thursday outside an invite-only dinner for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league's other team owners. He'll also be part of Sunday's rallies.

"We always hope that we have a great peaceful demonstration to educate people, but we're not backing down. We're not going to let anybody push us around," Bellecourt said. "The whole world is going to be watching what happens here on Super Bowl day ... there can never be a better time to do what we're doing."