Fresh revelations that the city of Bloomington, Minnesota is planning to go after perceived organizers of Saturday's massive "Black Lives Matter" protest to sue them for money allegedly lost by the commercial center and police have raised alarm among activists and civil rights advocates.
"Youth leaders of color [are] under attack," declared the Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter in a statement released Tuesday. "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."
Thousands of people on Saturday flooded the mall, one of the largest in the world, calling for an end to institutional racism and police violence targeting black and brown people in Minnesota. The action was organized in conjunction with nation-wide protests aimed at intervening in the holiday commercial bustle to send the message: "While you're on your shopping spree, black people cannot breathe."
The demonstration received an outpouring of support, including from workers in mall stores, some of whom stepped outside of their establishments and raised their hands in the air in a show of solidarity. While the protest was peaceful, and no injury or property destruction was reported, large numbers of police confronted the crowd, including some wearing full riot gear, and 20 people were arrested.
Now, Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson is vowing build a criminal case against alleged organizers, in a bid to win restitution for money allegedly lost by the mall during the partial shutdown of the commercial center, as well as by the police and city. According to an article published Monday by a local CBS affiliate, Johnson indicated that police are scouring videos and social media to identify supposed leaders. "The main perpetrators are those who continued on their Facebook site to invite people illegally to the Mall of America," she said.
However, protesters say it was police who closed down areas of the mall, in a law enforcement response that was entirely unwarranted. "We came to sing carols and raise awareness,” said Lena K. Gardner of the Black Lives Matter - Minneapolis, "and the Bloomington police are the ones who shut down the mall, not us."
Last year, with the full blessing of the mall, thousands congregated in the same rotunda to honor the life of Zach Sobiech, a young white man who died of cancer. "These carols honoring Black youths Tamir Rice and Mike Brown should have been welcomed with same the warmth and spirit of generosity," said Black Lives Matter - Minneapolis.
Johnson's statements are raising concerns that the city is advancing the further privatization of a mall that, in fact, is funded by the public.
Despite receiving $250 million in public taxes just in 2013, the Mall of America prohibits public protest on its premises as a matter of policy. The establishment released a statement following Saturday's protest, stating, "We are extremely disappointed that organizers of (the) Black Lives Matter protest chose to ignore our stated policy and repeated reminders that political protests and demonstrations are not allowed on Mall of America property."
Protesters are urging supporters to contact mall and city officials and demand they stop wasting "public money protecting profit over people." Meanwhile, people across social media are tweeting #ChargeMeToo at the Mall of American (@MallOfAmerica) and city of Bloomington (@Bloomington_MN) to protest the criminal proceedings.