Hundreds of demonstrators marched through St. Paul to the Minnesota State Fair grounds Saturday in a protest organized by Black Lives Matter St. Paul, to call attention to what they say is racial bias on the part of State Fair organizers because few non-white vendors get spots at the fair.
A fair official told the Star Tribune the vendor application process is blind and they don’t keep track of vendor demographics.
St. Paul police estimate about 300-350 people participated in the march, which began at Hamline Park and went north on Snelling Avenue to the fairgrounds.
As the group approached, State Fair officials closed some of the gates so protesters could not get inside; it also meant that fairgoers could not leave during that time, KSTP reports.
The crowd chanted "Black Lives Matter" as it stopped in front of the fair's main entrance on Snelling Avenue.
"We're at the State Fair," one protester said on a loudspeaker. "The Great Minnesota Get-Together, but who is that get-together for? ... We're here because we're not going to be quiet anymore. For so long people have been complacent, people have been saying 'it's not our problem, it's society's problem'."
The crowd heard from other speakers including the aunt of Marcus Golden, who got a huge round of applause as she took the loudspeaker. Marcus Golden was shot to death by St. Paul police in January after driving an SUV at them.
They also read a list of demands; among them that the Department of Justice investigate Marcus Golden's shooting, and that all police officers be equipped with body cameras.
A sizeable crowd watched the demonstration from inside the fairgrounds, and some fairgoers joined in the chanting.
Others from inside the fair shouted out criticism of the demonstration. BLM organizers advised the protesters to ignore them – "they don't exist," they said.
The demonstration also disrupted traffic on Snelling Avenue, Como Avenue and other streets nearby.
On their way to the fair, protesters held a "die-in" and four minutes of silence on the Pierce Butler Bridge for Michael Brown, who was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri.
The main fair gates were reopened about an hour later, and once the marchers returned to Hamline Park, all the streets in the area were reopened to traffic.
St. Paul police escorted the marchers along their route and controlled traffic. The department reported no arrests and no issues.
The State Fair issued this statement Saturday afternoon, according to KSTP:
Today’s Black Lives Matter demonstration on Snelling and Como Avenues went without incident thanks to the cooperation of St. Paul and State Fair Police, and other local law enforcement agencies. Select Park & Ride buses that utilize Gate 5 on Snelling Avenue and Midway Parkway were re-routed, and the 2 p.m. parade was canceled. Between noon and 2 p.m., Gates 5 and gates on Como Avenue closed intermittently and most for a very brief period of time.