Before Vikings game, Black Lives Matter halts St. Paul rail

Protesters from Black Lives Matter St. Paul halted light rail service along much of the Green Line Sunday morning, blocking train traffic and shutting down a few major intersections ahead of the Vikings home opener.

Protesters from Black Lives Matter St. Paul halted light rail service along much of the Green Line Sunday morning, blocking train traffic and shutting down a few major intersections ahead of the Vikings home opener.

The group said the protest was in response to the forceful arrest of Marcus Abrams, a St. Paul 17-year-old with Asperger's syndrome who was forcefully arrested by Metro Transit officers Aug. 31 at the Lexington Parkway station.

That's where the protest started Sunday. Abrams and his mother were among the 80 people who marched onto the light rail tracks. Under police escort, the group walked west along University Avenue, making its way to a St. Paul police station on Hamline Avenue before returning to Lexington and University.

It began at 9:30 a.m. and finished at noon, when the Vikings game began.

Police shut down the surrounding streets, diverted traffic and moved with the protesters without incident. Metro Transit picked up light rail riders on buses and shuffled bus routes to avoid the affected areas.


Protesters chanted Abrams' name and slogans like "no justice, no peace, prosecute the police." Twice, they lay down on the rail tracks in a "die-in" to protest police killings. At another point, they joined hands and sang the gospel song "This Little Light of Mine."

Black Lives Matter organizer Rashad Turner said he was pleased with the turnout and the way the protest unfolded.

He said organizers didn't negotiate with police beforehand about where they'd be allowed to go, and thought officers might take a harder line on letting protesters on the tracks. He commended police for their hands-off approach.

"They're going to do what they do, and we're going to stick to our plans and keep things peaceful," he said.

Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla said the agency accomplished its goals of maintaining safety and continuing service during the protest.

"I think from our end, everything went well," he said.

A handful of would-be light rail riders showed up during the protest to find the trains shut down. Metro Transit announcements and staff directed them elsewhere.

Abrams addressed the protest crowd, saying he was coming home from work and "playing around" on the rail tracks -- something he said he'd seen others do without consequence -- when police confronted him.


The encounter turned rough, with officers taking him to the ground, he said. Abrams suffered two seizures, along with a split lip and cuts to his face.

"I kind of thought I was dead for 15 minutes," he said.

He was taken to a hospital and eventually released without charges.

His mother, Maria Caldwell, said his disabilities should have been apparent to the officers. She said police have yet to release surveillance video of the incident.

"It's 'to protect and to serve,'" she said, "not 'to protect and kill.'"

In a statement, Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb said "we understand and appreciate the concerns" surrounding Abrams' arrest.

He said the incident is under investigation and that Metro Transit can't discuss the details "until we have all the facts."

The agency is also exploring additional training to improve officers' interactions with people with disabilities, including autism (Asperger's syndrome is a disorder on what is considered the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum).


"All of us at Metro Transit are pleased to see today's protest was peaceful and that all involved remained safe," Lamb said.

A half-dozen counterprotesters also showed up Sunday, carrying an American flag, a Confederate flag and a yellow flag with a picture of a snake and the Revolutionary-era slogan "Don't tread on me."

They engaged in a few verbal exchanges with the Black Lives Matter group, although organizers of the latter implored supporters to ignore them.

Jason Thomas of Red Wing, one of the counterprotesters, said he objected to disrupting transit service for "a lot of innocent families just trying to enjoy the game" who "have nothing to do with Metro Transit."

Turner likened the protest to the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of the civil rights movement.

"We're going to continue to attack that money," he said, "because it's the only thing that makes them listen."

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