Why the Mall of America is suing Black Lives Matter protesters

To protest the November shooting of Jamar Clark, the Minneapolis chapter of the Black Lives Matter organization plans to protest at the Mall of America Wednesday, echoing Chicago protesters' strategy of choosing venues the city can't afford to ignore.

Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP
In this Dec. 20, 2014 file photo, demonstrators chant, "Black lives matter," to protest police, at the Mall of America rotunda in Bloomington, Minn. The Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter is planning to rally later in December 2015 at the mall to protest the November killing of Jamar Clark, a black man by Minneapolis police.

The Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter plans to hold a demonstration at the Mall of America Wednesday, protesting the Nov. 15 shooting death of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police. 

Despite legal action from the Mall of America, Black Lives Matter organizers said in a statement Monday that the demonstration will proceed as planned unless their demands are met. The demands call for videos of Clark’s shooting to be released and for the appointment of a special prosecutor to decide whether the involved officers shooting should be tried, rather than leaving the decision up to a grand jury. 

“We just don’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, we marched and now we did our part,’” Brettina Davis, a media coordinator for the Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice 4 Jamar Clark, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in reference to the coalition’s rally Saturday throughout the city. “That’s what a lot of people do these days. You have to keep fighting until we get prosecution of the police.”

The protest underlines a tension inherent in every civil disobedience movement: The need to push hard enough to bring about change, while not alienating those who might support the cause. And Black Lives Matter has a broader strategy than protests at shopping venues, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

It is a movement’s efforts to influence politics and policy at all levels that is key to its longevity, says Eric McDaniel, associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.. The reason the Republican tea party movement “is so successful is because they articulate clearly what they want, and they use protests as well as the ballot box to push their agenda,” he says. To further establish itself, he continues, Black Lives Matter will need to do the same.

In many ways, such efforts are already under way.

Since its inception, the Minneapolis chapter has pushed for legislative change at state and local levels – including calling for a $15 minimum wage citywide and a tougher police body camera policy, and supporting a bill that would restore the right to vote to felons who had served their time.

With the protest planned for two days before Christmas, the Mall of American isn’t accepting Wednesday’s demonstration without a fight. Retailers can do as much as 30 percent of their sales in the last two weeks before Christmas

The mall filed a request for a temporary restraining order last week, arguing that the mall is private property thus immune from unwanted protests. Mall of America sued eight activists with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, prohibiting the organizers from protesting at the mall and requiring them to delete promotional social media posts.

But Black Lives Matter Minneapolis says they’re not backing down.

“The Mall of America has now taken the further outrageous and totalitarian step of attempting to control the speech of individuals,” the organization said in a statement Monday, calling the mall’s demonstration ban a violation of free speech. 

The organizers have no plans to call off the demonstration. And if approved by a judge, the eight activists could face jail time by refusing to cancel the demonstration on social media. 

“I don’t think they know how serious we are and how dedicated we have become,” Alexander Clark, Jamar Clark’s cousin, told the Star Tribune. 

And the Minneapolis coalition for Jamar Clark may have found the sweet spot for change: target places of revenue for the city. “…Black Lives Matter came to remind shoppers of the pain and tragic results of systemic racism in Minneapolis and around the country,” the organization said in a Facebook post Sunday. 

Mel Reeves, a longtime community activist, urged protestors at the the Hennepin County Government Center plaza to continue their efforts in everyday locations so their message isn’t overlooked. While protesting alongside shoppers preoccupied with holiday preparations, “We should make them uncomfortable as hell,” said Reeves.  

Black Lives Matter protesters in Chicago followed a similar approach last month on Black Friday. Hundreds of protestors gathered on Chicago’s Michigan Ave., also known as the Magnificent Mile, to protest the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald last year by a Chicago office Jason Van Dyke, while blocking customers from entering stores on one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Protestors called for the resignation of city officials, largely Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who allegedly hid video of the shooting for over a year. 

“I would like to see Michigan Avenue stores take a big hit tomorrow business-wise, and people are going to say, ‘How can you say that? It impacts the whole city?’ So does murder,” Fr. Michael Pfleger, one of the organizers of the Chicago protest, told WGN TV on Thanksgiving. "Business as usual can't go on while our children are dying."

The Chicago Tribune reported sales on Magnificent Mile down 25 to 50 percent on Black Friday because of the protests, with many shoppers staying home or delaying their shopping trips to avoid a potentially dangerous riot. Mayor Emanuel didn't cite the Black Friday protests as a direct reason for requesting McCarthy's resignation a week later, but he said the superintendent is only as "effective as the trust that the community" places in him. 

But Wednesday’s protest in Minneapolis has more on the line than just poor retail sales, with counter lawsuits and restraining orders involved. 

“This year [Mall of America] continue to threaten alleged organizers instead of welcoming the peaceful event, but we’re not stopping until we get justice for Jamar Clark,” Black Lives Matter Minneapolis posted on Facebook. 

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