Monday, January 12, 2015

Mall of America's Double Standard & An Overzealous Prosecutor

Thousands protest peacefully at the Mall of America 
When the Mall of America opened in Bloomington, Minnesota just outside Minneapolis back in 1992, it garnered world-wide media attention for it's sheer size.

And it's big. Like well over five million square feet big; that translates to about 96.4 acres. You could fit seven Yankee Stadiums inside it (if you felt the need to try and do that) and it's got a theme park inside - you get the idea.

Back in late December, particularly on the east coast where I live, so much media attention was focused on the two NYPD officers who were tragically shot and killed by a deranged lone gunman, that many missed the story about the peaceful protests (pictured above left) against excessive police violence that took place in one section of the Mall of America.

In contrast to the incendiary rhetoric of factually one-dimensional reactionaries like New York PBA president Patrick Lynch, the protests were in no way "anti-police".

According to Nick Espinosa, a campaign manager for who attended the protests, on Saturday December 20th well over 3,000 people, including many young people of color as well as people of different races, ages and backgrounds, assembled in a section of the Mall of America to sing Christmas carols and peacefully reflect on the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner Tamir Rice and other unarmed African-American men and boys killed by police.

While much of the media coverage of the story was overshadowed by events in New York City, it was a pretty big story on social media during a month when similar protests organized by the group Black Lives Matter (and other groups) were taking place in cities all over the nation and in other countries as well.

The Mall of America protests were not sanctioned by the Mall's owners, but the protests were peaceful; carefully calculated by organizers to take place on a busy shopping day to bring attention to the cause of national calls for reforms in community policing and tactics.

Even though there was no property damage to the mall, or to any of the more than 520 stores, restaurants, movie theaters, hotel and other businesses inside, and no shoppers were bothered or harassed in any way, the Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson decided to take an aggressive approach to the protestors that might make one think cars were burned and stores looted.

On December 23rd in the wake of the protests, Johnson was quoted as saying of the protesters:
“You want to get at the ringleaders … to deter any future demonstrations at the Mall of America,”

Now does a peaceful, non-violent protest really have "ringleaders"?

Even though the more than 3,000 protesters sang Christmas carols, Johnson described their non-violent actions as a "tinder box waiting for a match" and she has announced plans to serve criminal charges against the organizers to compel them to pay thousands of dollars in "lost revenue" to the Mall of America and to the city of Minneapolis for "police overtime".

December protests outside the Minneapolis Police Station 
In response to legal threats and  intimidation efforts from Mall of America and the afore-mentioned city attorney, the Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter is using non-violent forms of protest to fight back; as seen in this photo (pictured left) of protesters holding a peaceful vigil outside of the Minneapolis Police station.

The group has also scheduled peaceful protests in Minneapolis for the Martin Luther King Day holiday next Monday January 19th.

According to information on the BLM Facebook page the group plans to lay out a list of demands that include Mall of America dropping criminal charges against the organizers, as well as calls for state politicians to adopt: "statewide legislation to end racial profiling, requiring all law enforcement in the state to undergo “bias and cultural competency training,” and increasing the number of police officers that live in the communities they serve."

SumOfUs campaign manager & protest supporter Nick Espinosa
As Nick Espinosa (pictured left) stated on the Website, the protests were carefully organized by hundreds of different volunteers including members of community organizations, members of clergy and average citizens concerned with the nationwide epic of excessive police violence against people of color.

Is the city of Minneapolis really going to bring criminal charges against the organizers of a peaceful protest where no one was hurt, no one was violent and no property was damaged?

It's not like the December 20th protests were the first to take place at the Mall of America.

In the past, people have been arrested at the mall for peaceful protests over everything from animal fur to gun control; in 1994 gun control advocates confronted actor Charelton Heston inside a restaurant in the Mall of America over his support of Republican candidates who support the NRA.

Last year more than 7,000 people assembled in the mall to raise awareness for cancer; that one was sanctioned by the mall. And they sang too.

But I guess 3,000 people gathering there to sing Christmas carols and peacefully reflect on the impact of excessive police violence was "riot in the third degree" as over the zealous City Attorney Johnson insisted.

Is the Mall of America private property? Sure it is. But it was also built with generous tax breaks courtesy of the citizens of Minnesota; many of whom were at the protests.

But when you have a massive retail space built directly on top of the site where the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins played for years until the stadium was demolished, that attracts over 40 million visitors a year and employs over 12,000 people - it's pretty much a public space.

That's why other protesters have gathered there in the past, and more will in the future.

To be fair to the owners of the Mall of America, they were probably stressed enough over the lackluster holiday shopping season and all the business they were loosing to; especially on the Saturday before Christmas.

But filing criminal charges against peaceful protesters strikes me as going a bit overboard; and actually plays into the protester's hand.

Why didn't Mall of America just go with it?

A diverse group of Mall of America shoppers support the protesters
I mean, Hell, there were three thousand people at those protests.

And it was a diverse group too.

Look at this photo (pictured left) of a group showing support for a group of people holding a "die-in"; remember, the protest was organized by Black Lives Matter, but there are clearly a lot of white faces in that photo holding hands in support too.

Does this look like a scene that you need to call police in riot gear to respond to? (Mall of America did by the way.) Does it look like something you want to file criminal charges over?

Why didn't Mall of America just put up a message of solidarity on their Jumbo Tron screen and encourage the protesters to visit the stores to finish their holiday shopping after the protests?

Or encourage them to stop by for a bite at one of the gazillion food courts they probably have in there; or kick back and catch a movie at one of the theaters?

Maybe I'm just a glass is half-full kinda guy, but Mall of America could have come off a lot cooler if they actually just went with the flow.

They could have scored some serious social media points instead of having opinionated progressive schmucks like me spend their free time blogging about how lame they came off.

It doesn't take some kind of marketing genius with a degree from Harvard to figure out that the Internet and tech savvy demographic that were participating in the protests, or were sympathetic to their cause, or read about the protests on social media (or paused from their shopping to watch and show support) are exactly the kind of elusive online shoppers that Mall of America wants to attract away from spending their hard-earned dough on a computer or electronic device to buy their gifts instead of strolling the 96.4 acres of their mega-mall to buy stuff. 

But they lost their chance. I can't help but wonder if there was some voice within the mall's ownership or management who suggested the "when in Rome" approach? Maybe.

Unleashing the cranky-sounding City Attorney Sandra Johnson (who came off sounding like a lecturing principle determined to send everyone to detention for skipping class) like some kind of self righteous Minneapolis 'Crusader for the Sanctity of Holy Commerce-Michelle Bachmann wanna be' was a really bad PR move. 

Anyway, that's my two cents for what it's worth. I don't think criminal charges are warranted in this case. The protesters were well behaved and peaceful and it was for a cause that many Americans of all different age groups, races, nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds support; reasonable police reforms to curb the excessive use of violence.

If you agree, take a couple minutes to click this link to the online petition posted on and add your name in support.

That's not anti-cop Patrick Lynch, it's just good sense - and it's pretty darned American too.

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