Nine Red Wing area residents participated in the Wednesday, Nov. 4, protest in Minneapolis that ended in 646 protesters being arrested after the group walked onto Interstate 94.

The march was organized to bring attention to multiple causes. Information about the event posted on the Black Lives Matter Minnesota Facebook page said that the protest was to call for health care for all, housing and economic relief, support of immigrants, community policing and to ensure that President Donald Trump would not “steal the election.”

Multiple Minnesota organizations hosted the protest, including Minnesota Workers United, Native Lives Matter, Racial Justice Network and Minnesota Youth For Justice.

Red Wing resident and Fair Trade Books owner Rick Malinchoc-DeVoe visited the protest’s staging site outside of Mayday Books on Cedar Avenue.

“The impressive thing for me, immediately, was how well organized and disciplined it was,” he said, adding, “The spirit was very positive, it was great to interact with all the people there.”

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Malinchoc-DeVoe said he had training in de-escalation techniques and wanted to be at the staging site in case any unrest occurred.

“One of the things that I had been concerned throughout this election and what have you, was the potential for clashes with counter-protesters. If it were going to occur, I felt that it was going to happen in the staging area prior to the march, not during the march.”

He noted that there was an “agitator,” but the march organizers used nonviolent de-escalation techniques to ensure that those gathered remained peaceful.

Interstate 94 arrests

Around 6:30 p.m. two different groups joined together on Cedar Avenue. Around 7:30 p.m. the hundreds of protesters marched onto Interstate 94.

Sam Betcher was one of the local residents who walked onto the interstate. “The march route included a short leg onto I-94 entering the interstate eastbound at Cedar Avenue with a plan to return to surface streets one exit down,” Betcher told a reporter.

On Thursday, Nov. 5, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety put out a statement that said, “State Patrol troopers and Minneapolis police officers cited and released 646 people for being a pedestrian on a freeway and public nuisance following a protest that began on city streets in Minneapolis and continues onto I-94 near Riverside. Six vehicles were also towed.”

“No dispersal orders were issued,” Betcher said and, though no Miranda rights were read, “Instead a loudspeaker announced that everyone present was under arrest. State Patrol and police coordinated their actions neither to protect First Amendment rights nor maintain unimpeded traffic flow, but instead to escalate a short freeway blockage into a mass arrest event that shut the freeway down in both directions."

He said it could easily have turned much more violent without strong, peaceful, leadership from the protest organizers.

Chaz Neal of Red Wing was among those arrested on I-94. “We were just walking, chanting, dancing and then wham, they start yelling this is a unlawful assembly you are all under arrest. People were shocked. You had people climbing over the fence, jumping the median. Most were detained from a hour to five hours with no water, no bathroom.”

State Patrol troopers and Minneapolis police officers cited and released 646 people for being a pedestrian on a freeway and public nuisance, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

“Walking on the freeway is illegal and very dangerous for pedestrians and motorists,” the State Patrol tweeted that night. “We respect the right of everyone to express themselves under the First Amendment, but the freeway is not a place to do that.”

Reports of pepper spray

On Thursday, Nov. 5, the Minnesota State Patrol tweeted, "no force or chemicals were used & no protestors or law enforcement were injured." However, multiple reports have said that law enforcement officials did use pepper spray on those who had gathered on city streets to watch the I-94 protest and subsequent arrests.

Betcher, however, recounted seeing onlookers on frontage roads being pepper-sprayed.

There have also been videos surfacing of protesters being sprayed by Minneapolis police officers that appear to be from the night of Nov. 4.

RiverTown Multimedia reached out to the Minneapolis police department and Mayor Jacob Frey's office for a comment on the use of pepper spray. Neither office has responded.

On Nov. 6, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt.-Gov. Peggy Flanagan received an open letter from members of the Minnesota Senate, Minnesota House of Representatives, Hennepin County Board and members of the Minneapolis City Council. The letter stated, in part:

“The decisions made by your administration were the opposite of what we want in response to a protest: police and troopers escalated the situation rather than de-escalating it. Choosing to kettle protesters on I-94, after failing to give an order to disperse, turned what could have been 20 minutes of getting people off the highway into a five-hour ordeal where more than 600 people were arrested and ticketed. These choices wasted public resources and added further strain to the fragile relationship between police and community members, especially in this part of South Minneapolis located just blocks from the 3rd Precinct.”

The 3rd Precinct was burned down on Thursday, May 28, three days after George Floyd died while in police custody.

Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman told reporters that he did not know about the protest and arrests until he heard about it on the news and through social media.

"I fully support the protection of a person’s constitutional rights, and to safely exercise their right to free speech," Pohlman said.

As of the time of Nov. 12 story update, neither Walz nor Frey had commented on the protest and arrests.