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Protesters Tie Up Missouri Highway

July 12, 1999

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ About 900 civil rights demonstrators spilled onto Interstate 70 north of downtown during rush hour this morning, shutting down the key highway for about an hour.

The demonstrators, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the New York activist, want the state to hire more minority contractors for highway construction projects. Protest organizers said talks with Gov. Mel Carnahan’s staff over the past week had gone nowhere.

``We can’t take it any more. We want our fair share,″ said Cleo Willis, a welder who sat down in the middle of the highway.

The protesters created a human chain across the roadway, shouting ``No justice, no peace″ as traffic backed up for miles in both directions.

At 6:40 a.m., about 20 minutes after protesters began walking onto the highway, police arrested Sharpton and then the others. Many had to be carried to police buses.

Federal authorities estimated 900 people took part in the demonstration, after initially saying there were only 300. About 200 of them were arrested on charges of impeding the flow of traffic and disobeying the law. Most of those arrested were released a short time later, including Sharpton.

One of those arrested was state Rep. Charles Q. Troupe of St. Louis.

``I think it was worth it,″ Troupe said after being released. ``If black men are out of work, then black women and children will suffer. We’ve got to fight for the employment of black people.″

Interstate 70 is the region’s busiest east-west corridor. Much road construction work is under way around St. Louis this summer, including replacement of bridges and overpasses on I-70.

The protesters have demanded that minorities make up 35 percent of workers and 25 percent of contractors in construction projects. They had said they hoped to attract 10,000 protesters.

``How dare they build a highway down the middle of north St. Louis and have no minority contractors?″ said Marcus Hindmon, president of MO-KAN, a group representing minority contractors.

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