Bloomington authorities are seeking charges against organizers of an anti-police-brutality demonstration at the Mall of America that upended one of the busiest — and lucrative — shopping days of the year.
Some protesters may also be on the hook for the city’s overtime costs to beef up security on the day of the protest, authorities said Tuesday.
Bloomington officials are taking a more aggressive stance than authorities did after similar protests popped up around Minneapolis in recent weeks fueled by outrage over recent police killings of unarmed black men. The Saturday protest at the Mall of America came after protest organizers were warned to stay away, and resulted in the immediate arrest of 25 people for trespassing.
Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson said authorities are working to identify and prosecute those who orchestrated the peaceful but unsanctioned demonstration in which between 2,000 and 3,000 people flooded the mall’s rotunda and some shopping corridors for several hours.
The protest brought more national prominence to a cause as similar protests have flared in other major cities, including some that turned violent and destructive. “You want to get at the ringleaders … to deter any future demonstrations at the Mall of America,” Johnson said Tuesday.
She added that potential charges against the organizers could range from disorderly conduct and trespassing to inciting a riot, all misdemeanors.
In a statement released Tuesday, the group Black Lives Matter Minneapolis said it was “saddened” by the decision to “to misdirect public resources to protect corporate profits instead of supporting justice” for blacks.
“It’s clear that the Bloomington City government, at the behest of one of the largest centers of commerce in the country, hopes to set a precedent that will stifle dissent and instill fear into young people of color and allies who refuse to watch their brothers and sisters get gunned down in the streets with no consequences,” the statement read.
Johnson dismissed the argument that authorities were infringing on the protesters’ right to demonstrate, citing a 1999 state Supreme Court decision that ruled the mall is private property where constitutional free speech protections don’t apply.
She pointed out that while business owners would not be compensated for lost business, the city would seek punitive damages from some of the protesters for out-of-pocket costs the city incurred while paying for overtime. The city was also forced to bring in additional officers, from as far away as Hastings and Red Wing, to provide extra security, she said.
“If it happened at Southtown [Mall], we would take the same stance,” she said. “It’s illegal to demonstrate at the Mall of America.”
Saturday’s demonstration represented the most high-profile local protest to date of the recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men in New York and Missouri.
After protesters flooded the rotunda, and held “die-ins” in front of several nearby businesses, riot-gear-clad police officers peacefully dispersed the crowd and tried to block people from re-entering the rotunda. Several stores in the eastern section of the mall were shut down for a brief period.
“The Bloomington Police Department’s primary concern was providing for the safety and security of MOA guests, tenants and demonstration participants,” deputy chief Rick Hart said in news release.
Mall officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The mall has had a contentious history with protests that dates back to its construction in 1992.
During its first decade of existence, demonstrators protesting animal cruelty and sweatshop conditions, among other things, descended on the state’s largest shopping center.
In 1994, a group of protesters confronted actor Charlton Heston at a mall restaurant over his campaigning efforts on behalf of a Republican U.S. Senate candidate. Two years later, two people were arrested after they locked themselves to Macy’s doors in the spirit of the annual Fur-Free Friday demonstration.
In most cases, arrests were made, but this appears to be the first time restitution is being sought from protesters.
The local movement spawned its own hashtag, #chargemetoo, which, as of Tuesday evening, had been tweeted nearly 7,000 times, according to Topsy, a social media analytics firm.