On a night when the Bloomington City Council passed a proclamation honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., council members were urged to live up to King’s vision of justice.
About 100 people packed the council chamber Monday night, many of them urging leniency for leaders of Black Lives Matter, the local group that organized a pre-Christmas protest at the Mall of America on the heels of nationally publicized incidents involving the deaths of young black men in confrontations with police.
One by one, speakers asked city officials not to single out protest organizers for prosecution.
“I’m here to request that if the city chooses to charge other people associated with that demonstration, that they charge me, too,” said Karen Wills, who attended the mall protest with her daughter.
“This is a moment in history,” said Lena K. Gardner of Black Lives Matter. “Earlier tonight, this body honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This body has an opportunity right now. You can choose the side of justice, or you can choose order. And you can choose to re-enmesh a system that is killing people.”
Twenty-five protesters were arrested at the Dec. 20 demonstration and were released after being charged with various misdemeanors. However, Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson said she plans to file additional charges against “ringleaders” of the protest, in order to deter similar demonstrations.
Johnson also said she plans to seek restitution for the costs of 250 police at the event and lost sales during the two to three hours when more than 75 stores in the mall were closed.
Johnson told protesters at Monday’s meeting that failing to hold mall demonstrators legally accountable for their actions would land the city on a slippery slope of selective justice.
“The city prosecutor’s role does not have the luxury of selectively prosecuting cases that come before us,” Johnson said. “We cannot let politics or public opinion interfere with prosecutorial discretion.”
Johnson added: “There is a cost to civil disobedience.” Her job, she said, is to turn suspected lawbreakers over to the criminal justice system, “which will treat them with dignity and respect.”
Only one person spoke against the protesters. “I’m here representing what I believe is a silent majority,” said Corinne Braun. “What was done at that mall was wrong. The members of this movement need to face their mistake.”
Despite warnings from city officials, a crowd of peaceful demonstrators jammed the mall rotunda on the Saturday before Christmas — one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Bloomington police, along with Hennepin County sheriff’s officers and Minnesota State Patrol officers, cleared most of the crowd — estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 people — from the rotunda.
But hundreds of protesters quickly migrated to nearby shopping areas.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has backed the mall’s right to keep protesters from using it as a venue. In a 1999 decision, the court held that the Mall of America is a private entity and that it has the right to exclude demonstrators. The city sent a letter to Black Lives Matter organizers before the protest, citing the court decision and warning them that the city would enforce the mall’s private-property rights.
Days later, more than 40 faith leaders wrote to Johnson and mall management, demanding that they be charged along with any “ringleaders” who might face charges.
“If your office plans to charge young organizers of this incredible, peaceful protest, then we demand that you charge us, too, because we all played a role in the success of this peaceful event,” the letter says. “[W]e demand to be charged right along with the young organizers of Black Lives Matter. We also ‘conspired’ to make this peaceful demonstration a success.”