In a freewheeling legal hearing Tuesday, attorneys for Black Lives Matter defendants argued that charges should be dismissed against the alleged organizers of a massive demonstration last year at the Mall of America.
Jordan Kushner, representing four of the 11 organizers, compared their actions to the marching zombies of Minneapolis in 2006 and the Vietnam-era Chicago Seven.
The zombies marched to protest consumerism, while the Seven were among the throngs of antiwar protesters who disrupted the Democratic National Convention in 1968. In both cases, courts upheld the right to political protest, Kushner argued before Hennepin County Chief Judge Peter Cahill.
In cases involving the First Amendment right to free speech, Kushner said, “conduct that is part of that speech is also protected.” That means the city has no right to object to the defendants’ presence at the mall, “a building that the public is invited to,” he said.
The eleven defendants are accused of organizing a demonstration that drew between 2,000 and 3,000 people to the mall on the Saturday before Christmas last year. They’re charged with a variety of misdemeanors, including aiding and abetting trespass, aiding and abetting disorderly conduct, and aiding and abetting unlawful assembly.
Torrie Schneider, an assistant Bloomington city attorney, vigorously denied that the defendants had any reason to believe they could stage a protest at the mall.
“They were well aware that they were not welcome at the Mall of America,” she said.
Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson took that position even further, calling the Black Lives Matter protest “without a doubt the most disruptive thing that has ever happened at the Mall of America.”
Cahill promised to issue a decision within 30 days on the defendants’ motion to dismiss charges.
While the hearing took place inside the Hennepin County Government Center, Black Lives Matter supporters rallied on the plaza outside. About 75 people gathered for the midday demonstration, a smaller crowd than at similar protests in recent months.