Hundreds of protesters shut down stores, light-rail trains and traffic to the airport Wednesday afternoon, creating a rolling wave of disruption on one of the busiest travel and shopping days of the year.
Organizers with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis had announced plans to protest at the Mall of America as they did before Christmas one year ago, but they expanded the protest beyond the mall, splintering into smaller groups to take over several light-rail stations and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Multiple law enforcement agencies showed up in full force, ushering protesters off roadways to and from the airport terminals, patrolling light-rail stations and shutting down security checkpoints at Terminal 2 (Humphrey) in case protesters tried to access the secure area on the day before Christmas Eve. There were more than 100 officers at the Mall of America alone, mostly from the Bloomington Police Department.
“We accomplished exactly what we came here to accomplish — we wanted to shut down the highway, shut down the airport and show solidarity with other Black Lives Matter groups,” said Michelle Barnes of Minneapolis, one of the protest organizers.
While the widespread protests sent police, Metro Transit and airport leaders scrambling to respond to the ever-shifting disruptions, the response from both sides remained relatively peaceful. There were no reports of injuries or property damage.
Bloomington Police, the State Patrol and airport police arrested 13 protesters, citing pending charges for trespassing, disorderly conduct, failure to obey lawful order, unlawful assembly and obstruction of the legal process with force.
At the airport, some travelers may have missed flights due to the closed roads and extra traffic congestion. Samantha Herman, 16, of Madison, S.D., was hurrying to catch a flight to Detroit to visit her father for Christmas, but she said she was worried she would miss the flight even though it was delayed an hour.
“We waited for an hour just to get into the stupid airport,” she said, adding that there was no other flight Wednesday to replace hers if she missed it.
In a statement, Black Lives Matter said the mall protest was a “decoy action,” a planned diversion while they shut down the two airport terminals and light rail.
“We raised the bar,” said Pastor Danny Givens of Above Every Name Church in St. Paul after protesting outside Terminal 1. “We let the nation and the world know that black lives matter.”
About 80 stores at the mall, the Twin Cities’ largest retail center, were shut down for about an hour and a half on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Some store employees and shoppers complained about the disruption, but the rest of the mall remained open.
A Black Lives Matter protest at the mall last December drew an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people and ended with 25 arrests.
In November, a judge dismissed charges of unlawful assembly and aiding trespass against 11 Black Lives Matter organizers, but kept in place trespass charges against 17 individual protesters and said no group possesses a constitutional right to political demonstration over the objection of the mall’s private ownership and management.
This year, the mall sought to make Black Lives Matter Minneapolis take down social-media messages about the protest, but a judge denied that request Tuesday. In the 29-page order, Hennepin County Judge Karen Janisch reinforced the mall’s right to remove protesters from its private property. But Janisch declined to bar Black Lives Matter from the mall, because the mall couldn’t prove that the group was a legal entity capable of being part of a legal action.
Janisch agreed to the mall’s request to prohibit Black Lives Matter activists Miski Noor, Michael McDowell and Kandace Montgomery from demonstrating on mall property.
Protesters said they would not cancel the demonstration seeking justice for Jamar Clark, who died after being shot by Minneapolis police in a scuffle Nov. 15. Activists claim he was handcuffed when he was shot, an assertion denied by police officials.
On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton said that he “remains sympathetic to the concerns of Black Lives Matter,” but also felt the Hennepin County judge’s ruling had established conclusively that the mall had the right to bar protesters from its property. And he said it’s Bloomington’s responsibility to decide how to intervene.
Inside the mall, Lois Piper of Bloomington smuggled a small paper sign that read “Justice for Jamar!” underneath her shirt so she could join the protesters. Other protesters said they weren’t worried about the possibility of arrest.
“Getting arrested as protesters is as American as apple pie,” protester Adrian Thompson said.
Before the protest began at 1:30 p.m., a big video screen in the rotunda warned participants to leave or be arrested. Security staff searched visitors’ bags at entrances and handed out cards letting visitors know the mall would be checking bags and other items as part of ongoing security procedures. Police from several metro area departments and the State Patrol congregated, ready to respond.
“Mall of America has a long-standing policy banning political demonstrations and protests on our private property. That policy is in place to protect the safety of all Mall of America guests, employees and tenants,” the mall said in a statement. “The organizers of today’s protest were well aware of that policy. We respect the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly. However, the courts have affirmed our right as private property owners to prohibit demonstrations on our property.”
After demonstrators filled the mall rotunda, warnings from the mall that they would be arrested prompted protesters to move to nearby light-rail trains.
They rode the Blue Line to the airport’s Terminal 2, chanting “hands up, don’t shoot” as police blocked their entry. The airport shut down security checkpoints at Terminal 2 for about 45 minutes, also preventing passengers from getting through.
Other protesters arrived at Terminal 1, stopping traffic and joining hands as they chanted, “Black lives, they matter here.” The Hwy. 5 entrance to Terminal 1 was shut down for a short time before police arrested some protesters and dispersed the crowd. There were a couple of flights that were delayed out of the airport because of the protest, said Patrick Hogan, airport spokesman.
Protesters also shut down light-rail service to other stations by standing on the tracks, forcing Metro Transit to send buses to transfer commuters as evening rush hour traffic began.
In a statement, Black Lives Matter said the demonstration at the airport was to protest Islamophobia and anti-black racism, including discriminatory profiling practices against black people and anyone who is perceived to be Muslim.
“The continued relentless violence against black people is appalling and morally repugnant,” the group said in a statement. “The fact that black people get constantly harassed by police forces at every level, local and federal, in airports, malls, and on the streets of America is no longer acceptable.”