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Black Lives Matter Protesters Block Light Rail In St. Paul

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Police and Metro Transit officials were prepared Sunday morning as Black Lives Matter protesters rallied on the Green Line in St. Paul in an attempt to shut down the light rail.

The group Black Lives Matter planned a protest and march to shut down the light rail system as Vikings fans were prepared to use the Green Line to travel Sunday's home opener against the Detroit Lions. Last month, hundreds protested at the Minnesota State Fair, causing road closures and the fair closed its gates for a short time.

A little more than 50 protesters participated in Sunday's event in St. Paul. The group gathered on University Avenue shortly after 9:30 a.m., then marched down the Green Line, blocking the light rail line, before stopping as a group and gathering at the intersection of University and Lexington Avenues.

The group claims this stop is where Metro Transit officers used excessive force against a teenager. They want to draw attention to 17-year-old Marcus Abrams, who was hurt in an August arrest. Metro Transit police records say Abrams was taken into custody for standing on the light rail tracks.

Police say he was refusing to cooperate and tried to kick and punch officers. But Abrams' mother says he couldn't cooperate with police because he has autism.

"They always want to hide behind 'We're doing an investigation and we can't talk about it.' It doesn't take any kind of clearance to apologize for bad behavior," Rashad Turner of the group Black Lives Matter said. "Look at Marcus Abrams' face and pictures after that incident. He was beaten badly."

Turner says blocking part of the rail line was an effort to hold officers accountable.

"We're talking about a mindset that allows someone to think that an excessive force is the only option to address a man with autism," he said.

That young man took to the megaphone, too, giving his account of what happened after officers asked him to step off the rail line he was standing on last month.

"I said 'Man get off me!' They said, 'What you gonna do about it?' I said, 'Try to get away from you,'" Abrams said to the crowd. "After that, they slammed me on the ground. I kinda lost track after that."

His family says as officers tackled him, he went into a seizure, and he was taken to the hospital.

"They couldn't tell me if he was alive or dead back there, all because of the damn police," Abrams' mother told the crowd.

She said the incident isn't just about race.

"You are not being treated as human beings if you are disabled," she said during the protest. "I'd rather be a black person walking down the street than a disabled person walking down the street."

Despite the passion of the crowd, some Vikings fans were confused. Sharon Wiggins of St. Paul was hoping to take the lightrail when she happened upon the crowd.

"I just think this is stupid -- would be all lives matter. White, black, police -- it doesn't matter," she said. "I don't think this is making a point at all."

But they insisted that's exactly what they were doing, even if it takes stepping out in ahead of a light rail.

The Metro Transit Police Department shut down the Green Line and replaced it with bus service so that metro transit customers could get Vikings fans in St. Paul to TCF Bank Stadium for the team's home opener. The buses were started between the Snelling Avenue and Capitol/Rice Street stations and Metro Transit had staff on hand to direct customers on where to go.

Metro Transit also replaced Green Line trains with buses between the Raymond Avenue and Capitol/Rice Street stations. The protesters walked down the Green Line and were headed towards TCF Bank Stadium, but turned around and marched back towards University and Lexington Avenues.

The group stopped at the intersection of Hamline and University Avenues and staged a "die-in," something that's been common in their protests. They also marched down to the West District police station to voice their frustrations over alleged police brutality.

The protest was mostly peaceful, except for a brief exchange between a small group of Black Lives Matter protesters and another group who disagreed with their message. 

No arrests were made in connection with the protest.

Metro transit is looking into Abrams' arrest and WCCO is told the officers involved are still working while an internal investigation continues.

Brian Lamb, a general manager with Metro Transit, issued a statement on the matter after Sunday's protest. The rally ended at about 1 p.m.

We understand and appreciate the concerns surrounding the Aug. 31 incident involving Marcus Abrams. Metro Transit police officer originally approached Abrams after seeing him on the light rail tracks, which is a safety concern. We are currently investigating what happened in the incident that followed and are not able to discuss the details of that investigation until we have all the facts.

Metro Transit is continuously exploring ways in which we can best work with the communities we serve. As that relates to the training of Metro Transit police officers, the department currently offers Crisis Intervention Training focused on helping officers understand interactions with people who may have disabilities. The department also is working with a partner agency to explore additional training, including specific opportunities in helping to further identify and understand Autism. Our officers also will be undergoing anti-bias training in an effort to reduce the impact of implicit bias on behavior.

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

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