About 1,000 protesters of all races, many of them metro-area high school students, rallied Friday in a rainy Minneapolis park to support Black Lives Matter Minneapolis members who had appeared in court that morning on charges related to a December protest at the Mall of America.
Afterward, many protesters headed up Nicollet Avenue into downtown Minneapolis. Police officers on foot, bicycle and in squad cars cleared the street for them and went ahead of the protesters. There were no confrontations.
A festive mood prevailed at the noon rally at Martin Luther King Park, with many protesters chanting, singing and dancing as they listened to music, spoken-word poetry and impassioned speeches. News quickly sped through the crowd that six Baltimore police officers had been charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died while in police custody.
Hundreds of students from metro-area high schools, including Southwest and Washburn high schools in Minneapolis and Central High in St. Paul, walked out to join the protest. On their way to the park, young protesters staged a brief “die-in” in the street at Lyndale Avenue S. and E. 50th Street. Along the way, many residents and bystanders cheered and clapped for the protesters.
At the rally, Eliaf Ray, a 16-year-old 10th-grader at Central, said he’d come “to stand up for what’s right, [against] the injustice. We want to make a change for everyone.”
Isaah Forde, 18, a senior at Central, said he had a personal reason to protest injustice. He said a police officer recently hit him in the back of the leg with his police baton for no reason, then told him he’d been “asking” to get jumped.
V.J. Smith from the MAD DADS organization and Lena K. Gardner of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis said they were heartened by the number and positive enthusiasm of students at the rally.
Earlier Friday, as about 150 Black Lives Matter supporters chanted outside an Edina courthouse, a Hennepin County judge denied an attempt to put a gag order on the alleged organizers of the Mall of America protest.
“Everyone has a First Amendment right to speak, and I’m not going to put a gag order on it,” Judge Peter Cahill said in denying a motion by the city of Bloomington. “These are cases of community interest, and there will be community discussion.”
The city sought to stop what it called “a substantial and ongoing media blitz” by 11 defendants it has identified as “ringleaders” of the mall protest.
Jordan Kushner, who represents several of the accused organizers, called the motion for a gag order a “dirty” move by the prosecution.
In court, prosecutors and defense attorneys argued over several pieces of evidence, including the identity of undercover police officers. Larry Leventhal, another defense attorney, said police reports reveal that there were undercover agents at training and planning sessions before the mall protest, as well as at the protest itself. It’s critical for the defense to know the identity of those undercover officers in case they tried to entrap protesters, he said.
Cahill said he’d review the issue and rule on it later. He then set trial dates for 36 defendants. Most of those charged with trespass will go to trial Oct. 12, while most of the organizers will go to trial Oct. 26.
Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson, who has argued that it is her job to enforce the law even if the protest’s cause was valid, declined to comment Friday.