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What football? Some see Super Bowl week as way of getting message out

December 9, 2017 GMT

Thousands of boisterous, banner-waving devotees are expected to fill Twin Cities streets when Super Bowl LII comes to town in February. Some might even stay for the game.

Everybody knows theres going to be protests they know what theyre walking into here in the Twin Cities, said Sam Sanchez. His group, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, and others have promised a week of resistance leading up to the Feb. 4 game. The demonstrations would continue, he said, unless officials addressed the treatment of the homeless and police violence.

Super Bowls, like other major sporting events, have had a way of attracting protests of all stripes, said Dana R. Fisher, a professor at the University of Maryland.

People tend to pick large events to protest where you can get a critical mass of people on the streets, said Fisher, who has studied the sociology of demonstrations for nearly two decades. Its a great opportunity to get a lot of attention, because the eyes of the nation will be on the game.

More than 5,000 credentials were issued to U.S. and international media from print, television, radio and online outlets.

Hundreds rallied outside Houstons NRG Stadium during last years Super Bowl weekend to denounce President Donald Trumps Muslim travel ban. Even in 1992 the only other time that Minneapolis played host some 3,000 people protested against the use of what they saw as racist mascots and nicknames by professional teams.

I think theres more of an activist subculture here than there is in other major metropolitan areas, said Minneapolis attorney Jordan Kushner, who represented protesters charged after the Interstate 94 shutdown last year.

The threat of a transit workers strike also hangs over the 10-day, star-studded extravaganza, which organizers say could draw more than a million visitors to the area.

Weve told management, were telling our members: If we dont have a contract, were not going to work the Super Bowl, were going to go on strike, and that includes the whole 10-day event, said Mark Lawson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, which represents about 2,500 bus drivers, light-rail operators and other Metro Transit workers.

Last month, union members rejected a contract offer from the Metropolitan Council and authorized a strike, citing disagreement over proposed changes to work rules, outsourcing and security for bus drivers. Transit authorities have said theyre confident a deal can be reached before the game.

Authorities would not discuss how they plan to handle potential Super Bowl-related protests, but insisted theyre prepared for any scenario.

Based on observations of recent Super Bowls, where any protests were minimal and peaceful, the MPD expects our approach, and our successful track record regarding peaceful demonstrations, to remain the same, said Minneapolis Police spokeswoman Sgt. Catherine Michal.

Security for the event will rival a presidential inauguration, officials said. Snipers will be on rooftops, while roving teams of officers will patrol the area around other events. Thousands of uniformed and plainclothes officers will be on duty, looking for signs of trouble.

Protesters, or anyone without a game ticket, will not be allowed into the secure perimeter around the stadium, stretching 2andthinsp;andfrac12; blocks in every direction, in the two days before the game.

But unlike at many other Super Bowl venues, surrounded by acres of asphalt in out-of-the-way locations, handling any protest that springs up could be complicated by the games cramped urban setting.

Organizers dont seem too concerned.

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committees primary focus is on putting on a safe and successful Super Bowl festival where all Minnesotans are welcome and everyone is respected, spokesman Michael Howard said in a statement. He declined to address specific questions about whether there would be designated free speech zones used at other major events to corral demonstrators into confined areas, often hundreds of yards from events. He referred further inquiries to Minneapolis police.

Bloomington Deputy Police Chief Mike Hartley said that his main concern is public safety but that he is willing to work with activists to allow them to express their First Amendment rights. The Mall of America will host some events.

Weve had enough [demonstrations] in Bloomington where weve got a way of going about them, where we always start with trying to work with protest organizers instead of against them, he said. But ultimately, when were talking about private property, there are rights involved with private property.

Despite recent crackdowns on protesters in some parts of the country, mega-events like the Super Bowl offer an irresistible platform for anyone looking to air his or her grievances, said Fisher, the sociology professor, pointing to the politically charged atmosphere surrounding football.

One advocacy group called Take a Knee Nation, which has been outspoken about police mistreatment of minorities, announced it would hold a two-day conference the weekend of the game, culminating in a rally protest near downtown Minneapolis on Feb. 4. Other groups have said the hoopla surrounding the game has revealed inequalities and tensions that existed long before the city was awarded the Super Bowl.

A lot of things that people ask for help with, theyre always saying: We dont have the funding, we dont have the funding, we dont have the funding, but then all of a sudden for this weekend they have the funds to do everything they have the funds to relocate the homeless, they have funds for security, said John Thompson, a local activist who has been outspoken about police brutality. You probably will see me at the Super Bowl with my knee down on the ground and Ill be there by myself if I have to.

Libor Jany 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany