I-94 Arrests Follow-Up-- "The Most Expensive Dance Party Ever"
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
As the events of last night's arrests are documented, it is becoming clear that this event was very significant for many reasons. With 646 arrests, this is by far the biggest mass arrest event in Minnesota history, dwarfing mass curfew violation arrests from earlier this summer during the mass uprising following the police murder of George Floyd. Previously, the largest mass arrest in state history was believed to be 284 persons arrested following an anti-war march in St. Paul on the first day of the 2008 Republican Convention.
Among the people detained and arrested were families with small children, juveniles, elderly participants, street medics and volunteer safety workers, community organizers, and at least one ASL interpreter. After being detained for hours on the I-94 freeway, most demonstrators had their belongings confiscated, were processed by police, issued citations, and were then released from busses at different locations around the city, including the USBank Stadium and at Cedar-Riverside. Information is still coming in about individuals, but at this time it appears no one was jailed.
Hundreds of police responded to an organized and peaceful protest march with an overwhelming show of force, kettling the protesters on I-94 and shutting down the freeway in both directions for hours while they slowly processed individual arrests. The protest march was stopped yards away from where the marchers planned to exit the freeway and return to the Cedar-Riverside area. State patrol in full tactical apparel brought live round, silenced weapons and militarized police vehicles, while officers mounted on horseback patrolled the freeway overlook areas and maced onlookers. War weapons such as LRADs and light emitters were brought to the site of the demonstration and aimed at complying march participants.
The deployment of such a large, militarized police force, with accompanying support from MINDOT employees and vehicles in order to manage the logistics of a mass arrest of this scale, must have been an enormous expenditure of tax-dollars. The march organizers and participants remarked repeatedly as the hours dragged on, that this response was unnecessary and hugely wasteful of state and city resources. Many pointed out that while Minnesota has seemingly unlimited police resources to control, contain and kill citizens, these same resources are out of reach to struggling communities and families. Activists surveyed the police lines and LRAD arrays and speculated about how many unhoused city residents could be given hotel beds for the same expenditure. The cost of this exercise, seemingly designed to teach organized demonstrators a lesson, remains an open question.
Militarized police with sniper rifle at the scene of the protest march
March participants react to police orders on I-94
Despite the enormous tax-funded expenditure, the message from law enforcement seems to have completely misfired. The detained demonstrators continued chants, speeches and prayers as they waited for the slow process of individual arrests. They danced to an upbeat soundtrack played by a DJ on the march's sound truck, and the ensuing event was quickly dubbed "the Most Expensive Dance Party Ever" by its hundreds of participants. The resilience of the demonstrators as they joyfully danced at the scene of their own mass arrest seemed to take the hundreds of assembled police officers aback. They could only stand in formation, watching as march organizers and youth participants alike danced to classic hip hop tracks or swayed, arm-in-arm, to Queen's "We Are the Champions."
Detained protesters dance as they await arrest on I-94
Like most organized protest actions during and following the Minneapolis Uprising, this demonstration was peaceful and tightly organized, with safety marshals and support vehicles. The community organizers and marshals retained control of the crowd of demonstrators through the entire event, including the police action, and kept people safe and together. The march was a short distance from the freeway exit when they were kettled by law enforcement officers, and the protest action would have wrapped up and the participants would have peacefully dispersed within an hour if it had been allowed to continue. Most demonstrators went cheerfully to be processed for arrest, but the disproportionate consequences for some participants following a mass arrest must be considered.