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Community organizers vowing to peacefully protest during the trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin criticized government leaders Thursday for pouring money into fences, barbed wire and other barricades surrounding public buildings.

The boards going up around the city imply that the protesters are the problem, not police violence, said Michelle Gross from Communities Against Police Brutality.

"It is outlandish that they are circling their buildings and themselves in barbed wire and plywood and razor wire," Gross said at a news conference. "They are more afraid of the people than they are of police violence."

Activist leaders said they will assert their First Amendment right to protest during the trial, which begins with jury selection March 8.

"The First Amendment is about criticizing government, and police are part of this government. When they commit acts of violence against our community, we have to be out here and protesting," Gross said.

Civil rights lawyer and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong criticized Gov. Tim Walz's support for a $35 million SAFE plan that would fund the cost of additional law enforcement agencies, suggesting officials should instead use the money to push for criminal justice reform.

"We will continue to protest, we will continue to take to the streets. These barricades and all this fencing and barbed wire will not stop us from getting in the street and speaking truth to power," Armstrong said.

In front of the Hennepin County Government Center, which stood secured with concrete barricades, fencing and plywood, Trahern Crews of Black Lives Matter Minnesota contrasted the scenes downtown to the lack of protective measures during the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington.

"You didn't see any fences up like you see here today. You didn't see any barricades up like you see here today down by the courthouse ... but for peaceful protesters they're bringing in the National Guard, they're bringing in the police," Crews said.

If Chauvin is convicted, they will be jubilant, Crews said.

"We're hoping to be celebrating justice after this trial; we're not here to talk about civil unrest," Crews said. "But if you're preparing to give us an unjust verdict and you want to bring the military in because you know you're unjust, then we have a problem."

Community leaders said the first protest is planned for 8 a.m. the day the trial begins.

Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report For America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation. 612-673-7112 • @zoemjack