Mall of America was forced to shut down temporarily on Saturday as protesters gathered en masse. This is yet another instance of the nationwide demonstrations that are calling attention to the recent deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers.
The Mall of America, located in Bloomington, MN, lays claim to being the largest mall in the nation, complete with a roller coaster and an aquarium. Big as it may be, the management still had to shut down most of the stores on one side of the mall.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s demonstration, mall officials had repeatedly warned people that the mall was not a public space and therefore not an acceptable place for protesters to gather. The crowd of 1,500 people that showed up on Saturday afternoon clearly did not heed this warning. Beginning around 2 in the afternoon, protesters gathered in the rotunda and they were soon surrounded by police officers dressed in riot gear. The officers were able to disperse the crowd relatively quickly, by around 2:30, but a significant portion of the protesters reassembled on the second floor and the demonstration carried on.
At some point during the demonstration, a video message was projected on a wall where the protesters could read it. The message reminded them that the demonstration was unauthorized and a clear violation of the mall’s policies. It went on to notify them that the participants who continued to demonstrate would be arrested.
It was not until 6 p.m. that the Mall of America released a statement declaring that the temporary shutdown caused by protesters was over and that business had returned to normal. By that time, approximately 25 people had been arrested for various offenses. Police Commander Mark Stehlik said that to his knowledge, no thefts or violent crimes occurred during the demonstration.
For mall officials and store owners, the demonstration could not have come at a worse time. The weekend before Christmas is one of the busiest and most popular shopping weekends of the year and having to close a significant portion of the stores was disastrous.
Many shoppers showed up to the Mall of America unaware of what was going to happen that day and they were frustrated by the demonstration. On at least a few occasions, shoppers were yelling back at the protesters and telling them to leave. Others acknowledged that it had disrupted their day of Christmas shopping, but they also said that it was an important exercise in free speech and that the 1,500 people who gathered there had every right to protest.
Black Lives Matter is both the name and the mantra of the organization that rallied the protesters who temporarily shut down parts of the Mall of America. According to its website, the organization was created in 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the crime of killing 17-year old Trayvon Martin. In the wake of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the two white police officers that killed unarmed black men in New York and Missouri, the membership of the organization has grown significantly. Their peaceful demonstrations have recently become commonplace in major cities across the United States.
By Dac Collins
Photo by Meet Minneapolis – Flickr License