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Black Lives Matter and the State Fair: What to expect Saturday


After a week of public negotiation and intense social media scrutiny, Black Lives Matter is expected to hold its planned demonstration outside the Minnesota State Fair Saturday.

A group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators will meet at Hamline Park at 11 a.m., then head north along Snelling Avenue to the main entrance of the State Fair.

The event, the organization says, will remain peaceful – but the plan is described in the announcement as a "shut down action," so disruption is expected.

The city's response

On Friday, St. Paul city officials said they expect the march – called #BlackFair by organizers – won't get out of hand, the Pioneer Press reports.

"We have a plan in place," Mayor Chris Coleman said, according to the paper. "We will work that plan, we're not going to get into the details of that plan. ... But at the end of the day, we expect people to have a good experience tomorrow."

The plan does include extra police officers to handle the likely traffic issues caused by the march, the Star Tribune reports. Fair officials suggest taking routes that avoid Snelling Avenue.

KARE 11 reports State Fair organizers also will have extra security on hand.

OK, so who's demonstrating exactly?

The group organizing the protest is Black Lives Matter St. Paul, which has a smaller imprint than the Minneapolis branch that's been at the center of many previous high-profile demonstrations – notably at the Mall of America in December.

However, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis threw its support behind the planned march when it was announced. On Friday, the group reiterated it is not directly involved with the St. Paul subset, but said it "supports raising the visibility of racial justice issues in all aspects of Minnesota life and culture."

The Star Tribune spoke at length with the St. Paul organizer, 30-year-old Rashad Turner, who said the group doesn't plan to enter the fair grounds, but said if they have to, they'll "adapt."

The plan is proceeding, the paper notes, despite an significant number of complaints and threats made toward the group on social media when the #BlackFair event was announced.

What is the protest about?

Broadly, the Black Lives Matter group is about bringing attention to injustices they say the black communities in America face, from police brutality to economic disadvantages and other forms of prejudice.

But specifically with the Minnesota State Fair, both Twin Cities Black Lives Matter groups have accused organizers of not promoting racial equality with its vendor practices, making it difficult for non-white people to get spots at the fair. The groups haven't provided specific numbers however.

When asked, a fair official told the Star Tribune the vendor application process is blind and they don't keep track of vendor demographics.

On Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton called the planned protest "inappropriate," saying it would have made more sense if the Black Lives Matter group had gone to the State Fair board directly to try to address the issues, MPR reports – only considering a demonstration if that failed.

Will they go inside the Fair?

The group has said it doesn't plan to enter the fairgrounds, and technically, the demonstration isn't allowed inside.

FOX 9 explains a 1981 case involving a religious group that challenged the fair's rule about requiring organizations to be in booths or tents. It went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with the fair.

There is a Black Lives Matter booth at the fair, one set up in response to – but not in affiliation with – the demonstration organizers, MPR reports. It was manned on opening day by Todd Gramenz, a 25-year-old from St. Paul, who told the news service having a booth lets him "reach the masses and tell people that this is something that we're passionate about."

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