Hundreds of community members rallied by Mayday Books in Cedar-Riverside Wednesday evening before marching in protest of the two presidential candidates, saying that neither represent the community. Throughout the night, more than 600 activists would be surrounded by armed police and arrested after being detained on I-94 for five hours.
Minnesota State Patrol later announced that 646 individuals were cited and released.
The protesters first gathered under the red glow of the Midwest Mountaineering sign. Helicopters hovered overhead.
At 6 p.m., activists passed around signs, water bottles and blasted music, preparing to march against President Donald Trump’s attempt to halt nationwide vote-counting, the COVID-19 response, police brutality and Trump’s immigration policies. Many emphasized that, even though Joe Biden is preferable to Trump, they do not believe he will improve these issues.
By roughly 7:30 p.m., the group moved down Cedar Avenue, joined by residents and cheered on by some local businesses as they prepared to march on the busy highway.
By 7:55 p.m., building signs and the neon glow were replaced with searchlight beams and the lights of police cars, as protesters were penned in on all sides by armed police on foot, on bicycles, on horses and in armored vehicles.
We are surrounded by police pic.twitter.com/cwXGYveysz
— Samantha Hendrickson (@samanthajhendr) November 5, 2020
Protesters had only marched for 20 minutes and were a few hundred feet from exiting when police surrounded them and held them on I-94 for five hours. There were no physical confrontations with police initiated by protesters all night.
At 1:23 a.m., the highway reopened, according to Minnesota State Patrol, as the last protesters were finally processed and arrested.
“It’s outrageous … There was a rally, speakers, then we did a march like we’ve done more than 100 times in the last few months,” said Jess Sundin, member and speaker for Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar (TCCJ4J) and Freedom Road Socialist Organization. “There was nothing more than basic exercise of our First Amendment right.”
TCCJ4J organized the event as part of a national day of protests declared by the Chicago-based National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. More than 30 other advocacy groups, including University of Minnesota student groups, attended the protest, saying that regardless of who wins the election, neither Trump nor Biden truly represents the community.
The protest demands also included “community control” of the Minneapolis police, economic relief for the unemployed, a total freeze on evictions and utility shutoffs, and healthcare for all.
Over the five hour detainment on the freeway, law enforcement seemed to have an ad hoc booking system for protesters: They were escorted outside the police perimeter, zip-tied, given citations and photographed for mug shots by individual officers along the one-fifth mile stretch of highway. Some were allowed to walk away along the closed-off I-94 while others were bussed to different locations in the area.
Press is free to leave, as remaining protesters are arrested. pic.twitter.com/dRqvgyRpG9
— Lydia Morrell (@lydia_morrell) November 5, 2020
While Minnesota State Patrol tweeted that “walking on the freeway is very dangerous for pedestrians and drivers,” Minneapolis officials and others criticized officers’ decision to keep the freeway blocked for five hours when the march was just a few hundred feet away from the off-ramp.
“This overreaction from law enforcement is generating more disturbance and chaos than the protesters who went onto the highway,” tweeted Ward 5 Council member Jeremiah Ellison, who witnessed the situation. Many protesters called various city and state officials, including the governor and the mayor, while trapped.
Current assessment: this overreaction from law enforcement is generating more disturbance and chaos than the protesters who went onto the highway
Letting protesters leave would be the quickest resolution to this incident
— Jeremiah Ellison (@jeremiah4north) November 5, 2020
Law enforcement did not issue a dispersal order for protesters after surrounding them, but immediately announced that they were under arrest for public nuisance and unlawful gathering.
Minnesota State Statute notes that public nuisance is an act that “interferes with” or “obstructs” any public highway, among other definitions.
Minnesota State Patrol also tweeted that “no force or chemicals” were used against protesters. However, Minnesota Public Radio photojournalist Evan Frost photographed an officer macing spectators gathered outside a nearby apartment building.
— Evan Frost (@efrostee) November 5, 2020
TCCJ4J held a press conference in front of the governor’s mansion Thursday to call for all charges against the 646 cited protesters to be dropped.
Hundreds of officers were present from the State Patrol, Minneapolis Police Department, Metro Transit Police Department and the University of Minnesota Police Department.
According to a University spokesperson, State Patrol called in UMPD, who sent 20 officers to assist with traffic and pedestrian flow, but did not assist in making arrests.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led a University of Minnesota protest that started at Superblock and met with the larger group in Cedar-Riverside.
“Our community is crying and begging for help,” SDS member and first-year University student Jalisa Sang said. “This is our role because … people in the government of Minneapolis are not taking control, even our own Joan Gabel, Board of Regents and the University of Minnesota are not taking actions to protect students on campus.”
Even as protesters were zip-tied and hauled away on buses later that night, the mood remained upbeat, and the protesters danced as the leading van blasted songs like “The Electric Slide” and “This Is America.”
Protesters dance to the electric slide on i-94. pic.twitter.com/13nxQOHD1Y
— Samantha Hendrickson (@samanthajhendr) November 5, 2020
Leaders encouraged protesters over megaphones to stay together throughout the event, reminding them that they were stronger together and as a community.
“We haven’t had any support that we need, the justice that we need for our communities,” Hodo Dahir, a protester, said. “If we get arrested, we got arrested for the right thing.”