MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- State officials say more than 600 people were cited and released overnight in Minneapolis after protesters walked onto Interstate 94 and were circled by law enforcement officers, who cited demonstrators one-by-one, blocking the freeway for several hours.
The Minnesota Department of Public safety says that Minneapolis police officers and state troopers cited and released 646 people for being a pedestrian on a freeway and public nuisance. Six vehicles were also impounded. In a statement Thursday morning, officials noted that it's illegal and dangerous for pedestrians to walk on a freeway.
"We respect the right of everyone to express themselves under the First Amendment, but the freeway is not a place to do that," the State Patrol tweeted Wednesday night.
"The fact that they intentionally blocked us on the freeway and prevented us from leaving meant that we were probably there for somewhere between four and five hours," said Nekima Levy-Armstrong.
One account from a protester said that they saw people at the back of the march being beaten with batons. DPS says that at no point in the night was force used.
Protesters say there was no warning to move off the freeway, but a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said there was an announcement that people on the freeway were subject to arrest. He said officers do not have to give a warning when protestors break the law. He also said it was easier to process citations on the highway rather than trying to transport hundreds of people in groups.
Jess Sundin went to the protest with her partner and 16-year-old daughter. She says her daughter was separated from her family before being zip-tied, escorted by bus off the freeway, and released.
"This bus full of teenagers was dropped off on the side of the highway on the West Bank at ten o'clock at night," she said.
At one point in the night, protesters started a dance party while they were detained.
Earlier in the evening, two groups of protesters, organized by the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar and other groups, began marching on Minneapolis streets, demanding racial justice and decrying President Donald Trump's efforts to "steal the election."
"He expected to win and the way he was going to do that was go to the Supreme Court and stop the counting of ballots," said Sundin.
Organizers said they had planned to demonstrate regardless of who won the White House.
Around 7:40 p.m., the demonstrators marched onto eastbound Interstate 94 near Cedar Avenue, where they were met by law enforcement, who closed the freeway between Interstate 35W and Highway 280. Police and state troopers encircled the protesters and processed them one-by-one, allowing those with children to go first.
Although the protesters were near the freeway exit, they were not allowed to simply walk away. Neither were members of the media covering the protest. It wasn't until after 1 a.m. that the last of the protesters was released and the freeway was reopened to traffic.
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In a statement Thursday morning, the organizers of the protest demanded that any charges against the protesters be dropped, arguing that law enforcement violated their First Amendment rights. They also called for all impounded vehicles to be released without fees.
Minnesota State Patrol has said protesters whose bikes were confiscated Wednesday night can pick up their property at the West Metro District Office in Golden Valley.
WCCO-TV's Jennifer Mayerle reports that law enforcement's response to the protest had been planned for weeks as officials feared possible unrest stemming from the presidential election.
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