MANKATO — About 60 mostly black college students and their supporters sat on the grass berm behind the goal post at Blakeslee Stadium before the start of Minnesota State University's Homecoming game Saturday.
When the rest of the stadium fans and players stood for the playing of the national anthem, the group, dressed in black, stayed seated, some holding signs for Black Lives Matter.
The silent protest brought some jeers and comments from the large group of students, mostly white, who stood around them on the berm.
"Thank you for respecting veterans," shouted Ben McHenry sarcastically.
"All lives matter, police lives matter," he yelled at the group.
Three Mankato police officers had stationed themselves on the edges of the berm and watched, but the demonstration was calm and none of the protesters responded to their critics.
McHenry, a MSU students from the Twin Cities, said he understands the message of protesters but doesn't believe tactics such as sitting through the national anthem, or blocking highways as protesters have done in the Cities, is the right way to respond.
"In 95 percent of the (police) shootings it's people pulling guns on cops. What are they supposed to do, wait to get shot?"
Rosalin Cobb, who coordinated the event for the Black Student Union at MSU, said they just wanted to raise awareness about issues surrounding police shootings of unarmed blacks and the imbedded racism in society.
"We don't want to stir people up, but just get people in Mankato to talk about this," said Cobb, who is a junior from St. Paul.
She said the Black Student Union usually draws about 20-30 members to events it holds on campus.
Cobb said that when she and others raise issues of racism, the reception she and other African Americans get on campus varies. "Some students receive it well and are more progressive, but others are very ignorant about the issues."
She said that the group had gotten a lot of criticism and racist comments on the social media app Yik Yak. "There was a lot of backlash on social media. We just all disconnected Yik Yak," Cobb said.
She said coming from St. Paul to a dominantly white area has been an adjustment. "People don't understand what it's like to come here from a city that's very diverse."
The students' silent protest follows a stand taken by a growing number of NFL football players and other athletes during the playing of the national anthem.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement when he began sitting during the national anthem this preseason in a silent protest to show support for people of color who are being oppressed in the United States, and to take a stand against police brutality.