MINNEAPOLIS - If you really want to get attention, shutting down a major urban interstate is a sure-fire option.
Protesters moved from a pair of demonstrations down an on ramp onto the northbound lanes of I-35W on Thursday. Police shut down the interstate, blocking traffic just short of the ramp. Close to 200 of the protesters massed across all the lanes, holding signs and chanting. There were two groups protesting in the area, one group targeting higher wages for fast food workers and another calling for justice in the case of Eric Garner, the man choked to death by New York police officers. A grand jury voted not to prosecute the officers in that case.
Shortly after 1:30 p.m. Thursday the protesters laid down in the roadway. They then got back on their feet and began marching towards downtown, with squad cars crawling along in a line behind them. Traffic was backed up for hours behind the protesters, some reporting sitting in a complete standstill for two hours.
Lt. Col. Matt Langer, acting Chief of the State Patrol, sent out this statement on Thursday:
"Our concern is always for the safety of the public. To be clear: It is illegal and extremely dangerous to walk on a freeway.
In this case, the safest and fastest way to clear the roadway was to keep the demonstrators moving and have them exit the Interstate. Arresting more than 100 people would have taken longer and been potentially more dangerous than letting them leave on their own."
The protesters marched through downtown to the Minneapolis City Hall where they entered the building, laid down and started chanting, "I can't breathe."
Chants changed to "This is what democracy looks like" as the group headed up the stairs.
"There's more stuff going on, this is not just about Ferguson," said lead organizer Mica Grimm.
At least a hundred people marched to the third floor where city council members work. They were upset over a vote this week by the council that cuts money from programs focused on racial equity in Minneapolis. Protesters wanted money taken from the police department budget to restore that funding.
"If we want our freedom, we need to fight for it. We need to demand it until we see change," said Nekima Levy-Pounds, a law professor and one of the organizers.
Some of the council members came out of their offices to talk to the crowd, but some of the protesters accused them of "dancing around" the issues.
"I'm not dancing around the question. I'm just telling you, the cuts to the police budget is not happening from what I can tell because there's not enough support here to cut the police budget, so that's not going to happen," said Council Member Blong Yang, who was the first council member to address the crowd.
At times, the exchanges got heated when protesters were not getting the answers they wanted, accusing council members of being out of touch.
"I'm struggling to claw back some of the money that got cut. I was one of the six who voted against the cuts that got made recently," Council Member Cam Gordon told the crowd.
"You need to be here, you need to be a partner pushing us," added council member Alondra Cano.
In the end, the group vowed to return, promising to keep pushing.
"If we want justice, we have to demand it. We have to demand it, it cannot end here today," said Levy-Pounds.
Protesters plan to be at the city council meeting on Wednesday when the council is expected to vote on the budget.