By Alexis Watts, NLG Minnesota
As the NFL Super Bowl LII approaches Sunday in Minneapolis, the National Lawyers Guild of Minnesota’s mass defense team will be keeping legal score for protesters, and flagging penalties on police fouls.
Tensions are running high as state and local governments spend millions of dollars on an event that community advocates call a party for the rich. Local people are being inconvenienced, policed, and temporarily banished because of the game. All will feel the repercussions, but our most marginalized communities will be made the most vulnerable, and locals will get little in return.
Activists say there was little transparency in the Super Bowl bidding process, and that there has been no way for even experts to fully understand – or contest – the arrangements that were made between the government, local corporations, and the NFL over taxation and other issues.
Taxpayers were not told how public money and space are being used, or where the enormous profits will go. This multi-million dollar public gift happens while the St. Paul Federation of Teachers has voted to strike, fueled by a $27 million-dollar deficit partly due to corporate tax avoidance. Adding to the economic impact are serious concerns about worker exploitation during the week’s many Super Bowl events, and distress over the displacement of homeless people and families.
The NFL and Minnesota must also reckon with racism and unjust policing. Colin Kaepernick, the star quarterback who kneeled during pregame National Anthems (and was dropped by his team and not rehired by others), and the many other athletes who followed, brought the ongoing racial equality struggle further into public consciousness. Their actions led to controversy and debate, and a boycott of NFL games.
These actions highlighted the long legacy of police violence against people of color. In our state, the game kicks off shortly after the revelation (not surprising to local people of color) that Minnesota ranks second in the nation in racial inequality. Minneapolis and neighboring cities have been plagued by police brutality, including the murders of Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and Justine Damond.
Given the recent violence here, it is easy to understand why the high-level of Super Bowl policing makes locals uneasy. The game is designated a federal National Special Security Event. Downtown, this is already evident. A full week before the main event, National Guard vehicles are parked along major downtown streets, and police from across the state are deployed. Surveillance cameras, bomb-sniffing dogs, license plate readers, motion detectors and more will be used to keep the game “secure.”
Locals are trying to be heard and not be drowned out by the thousands of police and wealthy fans. During the week leading up to the Super Bowl, actions are planned around many issues, including worker’s and tenant’s rights, racism, corporate greed and oil pipelines. Super Bowl weekend, the Take A Knee Conference on Race, Political Violence, and the Right to Protest will happen in Minneapolis. These events will culminate in the Super Bowl Anti-Racist Anti-Corporate Rally and March on Sunday, February 4th at or close to the stadium.
For NLG Legal Observers (and the activists they work with) the Super Bowl will present many challenges – a large police presence and surveillance, frigid weather, and possible antagonism by privileged football fans. Legal Observers will keep a vigilant eye and document any violations of protestors’ rights. Guild lawyers will stand by in case of arrests.
Our Green Hats in the crowd will serve as a reminder that the NLG supports those who exercise their rights, even in the most daunting of circumstances.
Speaking truth to power is no game.