MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Bloomington City Attorney announced Wednesday that ten people have been charged in connection with the “Black Lives Matter” protest at the Mall of America on Dec. 20, 2014.

Authorities said the charges include unlawful assembly, public nuisance, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Another 25 people that were arrested the day of the protest for a variety of offenses will be processed through the legal system for their offenses.

According to criminal complaints, those charged include 21-year-old Michael Anthony McDowell of Minneapolis, 24-year-old Kandace Leanne Montgomery of Minneapolis, 49-year-old Todd Allan Dahlstrom of St. Paul, 24-year-old Mica Lauren Grimm of Duluth, 26-year-old Catherine Claire Solanek of Minneapolis and 26-year-old Adja Sara Gildersleve of Minneapolis.

In response, Black Lives Matter called the charges “absurd” and said they impinge on members’ right to peacefully assemble.

The protest brought thousands to the Mall of America on the final shopping weekend of the year before Christmas. The mall went into a partial shutdown for about two hours that afternoon protesters filled the rotunda. The group, “Black Lives Matter” chose the mall for its high visibility, but was warned repeatedly that it was private property and demonstrations are against the law.

About 80 stores inside the mall and several entrances were put on lockdown during the protest.

Mall officials said they made it clear to the group that protests or demonstrations were not now allowed on their property. They gave the “Black Lives Matter” group an option for an alternative location, but the group declined.

It’s the same group that caused a closure of Interstate 35W just outside of downtown Minneapolis as demonstrators marched up the interstate to Minneapolis City Hall for a protest. It was in response the officer-involved deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City, that ignited protests across the country.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of those charged, spoke at a press conference Wednesday.

“We expect to move forward and declare that black lives matter and mobilize and move forward until we see the changes we need to see to feel there is equity and justice in the state of Minnesota,” she said. “I am planning to be steadfast and vigilant in defending the charges.”

The city’s case

In the criminal complaints, police cite a letter the MOA sent by courier to organizers beforehand, urging them to move the protest to a nearby lot.

Defense attorney Joe Tamburino, a lawyer not affiliated with the case, said the letter will likely come into play in court.

He said there is precedent for the charges in a 1996 fur protest at the Mall of America, by Macy’s, when the courts cited the state constitution in siding with the mall. Courts ruled that even though MOA had public financing, and they accommodate crowds of strangers, it’s still a private place.

“The law is well settled,” Tamburino said. “I don’t think the protesters are really going to have much to say in court.”

The city says the protest cost them more than $30,000 for police overtime and mall security costs.

‘These charges are absurd’

Black Lives Matter responded to the charges during the Wednesday press conference .

“These charges are absurd,” Mica Grimm, one of the defendants, said. “The implications of forcing protesters to pay for police presence they didn’t ask for sets a dangerous precedent that could potentially affect all citizens and negates the very rights afforded by the constitution to peacefully assemble.

“If we start charging protestors for police presence that they didn’t ask for, it will defer people from protesting. It will defer people from standing up for what’s right.”

The charges come despite a letter from Congressman Keith Ellison urging Bloomington City Attorney not to press charges against organizers. Minneapolis City Council members Alondra Cano and Cam Gordon wrote letters supportive of the organizers as well.

A petition asking the Mall of America to request that charges not be filed has gathered over 40,000 signatures.

“It’s clear that the Bloomington City Attorney has chosen to pursue charges as a way of stifling public protest and the voices of those who care about justice,” one of the defendants, St. Thomas Law Professor and Civil Rights Attorney Nekima Levy-Pounds, said. “We renew our call for police accountability and an end to the worst in the country racial disparities right here in Minnesota with immediate systemic changes.”

The ACLU also sent a statement, attributed to Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU-MN:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is disgusted that the Bloomington City Attorney has filed charges against individuals that they have identified as the organizers of the Black Lives Matter/MOA protest.  There is finally growing concern and dialogue regarding the failure of our criminal justice system to hold police officers accountable for acts of excessive force and other misconduct.  These problems are happening in our backyard and should not be ignored. The ACLU-MN released data last year that shows massive disparities in arrest rates for low level offenses between blacks and whites in Minneapolis.  Arrest disparities are one of many problems that plague our criminal justice system. Another alarming statistic is that African American young men are 21 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than whites. It is unfortunate that the Bloomington City Attorney has chosen to focus so much time, energy, and taxpayer resources to pursue vengeance for a peaceful gathering on these important issues. Rather than joining the dialogue that has arisen from this national movement, the City has instead chosen to try and silence those who are speaking out.

The City Attorney of Bloomington did not comment on the recent charges.  A spokesperson from Bloomington Police said they will not comment further but will let the criminal complaints speak for themselves.

If convicted, those charged face up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield