ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Police used smoke bombs to clear demonstrators blocking Interstate 94 in St. Paul late Saturday night during a protest sparked by the recent police killings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.
The smoke was used after about 200 protesters refused to leave the roadway just after midnight as police in riot gear slowly moved in. The St. Paul Police Department tweeted that arrests were made, but didn’t indicate how many, and said at least five officers suffered non-serious injuries when hit by rocks, firecrackers and bottles thrown by protesters.
Mike Martin, who wore a guitar on his back and said he was trying to promote peace, was pepper sprayed by a police officer on a pedestrian bridge overlooking the interstate. He said he was trying to move the crowd along and keep the peace.
“I guess I wasn’t moving fast enough for him,” said Martin, who estimated the officer was six feet away and sprayed without warning. “He just got it out and bam, I saw a cloud. It’s burning pretty bad.”
A leader on a loudspeaker urged the group to march to the governor’s mansion, where protesters have gathered since the fatal police shooting on Wednesday of Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul. The 32-year-old school cafeteria supervisor was shot during a traffic stop while reaching for his wallet, according to his girlfriend, who live-streamed video of the shooting’s immediate aftermath on Facebook.
Tyree Johnson, who said he was Castile’s cousin, said officers on the highway fired pellets and gas in his direction.
Misty Macon, 20, of St. Paul, said the protest was mostly peaceful, even as at least one protester aimed a firework at an officer. She said she saw about 30 people being peacefully taken away by officers, who said they warned protesters they would be subject to arrest if they didn’t disassemble.
Police said the interstate reopened early Sunday morning.
The protest, which started with a march from the governor’s mansion around 8 p.m., was among several demonstrations nationwide following the deaths of Castile and 37-year-old Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sterling, who was also black, was shot after a scuffle with officers outside a convenience store.
The night after Castile was killed, five police officers were fatally shot and others were wounded during protests in Dallas. Authorities identified the Dallas shooter as an Army veteran who was later killed by police.
Sterling’s and Castile’s families denounced the attack on the Dallas officers.