After countless protests against alleged police brutality across the United States since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., last year, public opinion is divided about the Black Lives Matter movement. To many, the activists are shedding light on a problem endemic to many interactions between African Americans and law enforcement; to others Black Lives Matter promotes violence or is even a “terrorist group.”
This battle now comes to a quite unusual battleground: Minnesota’s Mall of America — the largest mall in America, which has now sued the group and individual activists to prevent a Black Lives Matter protest planned there for Wednesday.
“Mall of America supports BLM’s First Amendment right to free expression, but courts have clearly ruled that right may not be exercised on private property without the consent of the property owner,” a request for a temporary restraining order filed in Hennepin County read. “To protect Mall of America’s guests, tenants, and employees, this consent has not been given, and if BLM holds its demonstration at Mall of America despite the lack of consent, Mall of America will suffer irreparable harm.”
The Mall of America pointed out that, “for the third time in a thirteen month period,” Black Lives Matter has planned a demonstration at the 4.2 million square foot complex with 520 stores, 50 restaurants and its own amusement park. The first came on Dec. 20 of last year, when up to “1,500 people” came to the mall. Subsequent turmoil and arrests led to “an estimated 24,000 guests who did not visit Mall of America on that date.”
“If the demonstration is allowed to go forward on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Mall of America is certain to lose guests who would otherwise have visited the mall,” Mall of America said of the planned protest. ” … In addition to these lost sales, the more than 15,000 people employed by Mall of America and its tenants will be negatively affected by a [sic] the loss of sales at the mall, as many of the employees depend upon commissions, tips, or bonuses that will be reduced due to the demonstration.”
Though the judge in the case has yet to make a decision, Black Lives Matter immediately decried the request.
“The people have a right to show up, we have a right to say what our message is, we have a right to speak out,” Miski Noor, an organizer with Black Lives Matter named in the suit, said, as Minnesota Public Radio reported. “And us not showing up and us not speaking would be the mall winning, yet again, as corporations and police departments and the institutions collude to silence us, that’s not going to happen.”
Black Lives Matter also focused on the Mall of America’s attempt to force the loosely defined group to announce the rally is canceled.
“In an unprecedented attempt at halting a peaceful gathering, the Mall of America has sued 8 activists to compel them to ‘immediately’ post messages on social media and send out a mass text message announcing that the December 23rd event is cancelled,” Black Lives Matter Minneapolis said in a press release. “If the motion is approved by a judge, activists could face jail time for refusing to make social media posts or send texts in accordance with the demands of a private corporation.”
Though located well outside downtown Minneapolis, the planned protest at the Mall of America comes at a fraught time for the city. Following the death of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old African American man, at the hands of police in November, protesters gathered at a makeshift campground in front of the city’s 4th police precinct. The site became a focus for Black Lives Matter — and drew greater attention when men alleged to be white supremacists fired on protesters, injuring five. Then, less than three weeks ago, the protest site was cleared.
Whatever a judge rules, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis appears ready for more confrontation — and ready to fight to get its message out amid hordes of holiday shoppers.
“The MOA is the coliseum of capitalism, the perfect symbol of how money and resources are misallocated in this state,” Kandace Montgomery, another protester named in the suit, said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of stores and restaurants at the Mall of America.