The Mall of America is seeking a restraining order to stop a Black Lives Matter protest scheduled for December 23, asking a judge to force protesters to cancel the event and immediately stop promoting it.
The mall wants the judge to force the group to take down social media posts announcing the demonstration and send new messages canceling it, including on Twitter and through group texts.
The request is the latest escalation of a fight between the mall, which is located in Bloomington, Minnesota, and Black Lives Matter protesters that has lasted for more than a year. On December 20, 2014, a Black Lives Matter protest at the mall drew thousands of people and resulted in 25 arrests.
The mall — which claims its business was hurt on one of the busiest shopping days last year — wants to stop it from happening again.
Last year's protests drew more than 2,000 people and lasted two hours
Between 2,000 and 3,000 Black Lives Matter protesters gathered on December 20, 2014, at the mall, the biggest by square footage in the US, to chant, "Hands up! Don't shoot!" and protest police brutality.
The protest was peaceful, organized, and lasted nearly two hours, including "die-ins" outside the mall's rotunda in front of individual stores. (Minnesota Public Radio has a fuller account of the protest.)
Bloomington had tried to discourage protesters from gathering at the mall, and set up security checkpoints on the day of the scheduled protest.
The mall is private property, although it's been supported in part by public subsidies and has the right to block protests it hasn't approved. The Mall of America tried to do so in dramatic fashion. Over a public address system, it repeatedly broadcast the message, "This protest is not authorized." On giant screens, the mall displayed a stark message: "THIS IS A FINAL WARNING. This demonstration is in clear violation of Mall of America policy. All participants must disperse immediately. Those who continue to demonstrate are subject to arrest."
Police closed about 80 stores temporarily. In some cases, shoppers were confined in stores until the protest had ended. In the end, 25 people were arrested. The organizers were charged with misdemeanors, including public nuisance, trespassing, and disorderly conduct.
This year's protest comes after a turbulent month for Black Lives Matter in Minneapolis. Police shot and killed Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man, during a confrontation November 15. Then five African Americans who were protesting the shooting outside Minneapolis's Fourth Precinct police station were shot November 24; four men — three white, one Asian — were charged in connection with the shooting.
The planned protest at the Mall of America this year seeks to draw attention to Clark's death and to pressure the police to release video of his shooting.
The mall's restraining order request argues that last year's protests stopped 24,000 people from visiting the mall on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, as measured by the drop in car traffic, and caused an "incalculable loss of goodwill" with shoppers.
But Black Lives Matter isn't backing down. "If we don’t get justice for Jamar Clark and Black Minnesotans, we will return to the Mall of America," the group wrote on Facebook. "We have endured an armed white supremacist terrorist attack where 5 of us were shot; police violence in the form of mace, batons, and less lethal projectiles; over 50 arrests on highway 94 and at the 4th Precinct; and freezing temperatures to demand justice for Jamar Clark. If it’s not clear yet: we won’t stop until we get it."
State law says the Mall of America can block protests if it wants
The Mall of America has gone to court over demonstrations before. And Minnesota state law holds that the mall is private property and can prohibit protests if it wants.
The mall is privately owned, but its construction was financed in part by governments. Public money covered about 25 percent of the initial cost of the mall's construction, and public subsidies will cover $250 million of a forthcoming $1.5 billion expansion, mostly through tax rebates.
Still, the state Supreme Court decided that isn't enough to make the mall qualify as a public forum, where banning protest would be unconstitutional.
This isn't true everywhere. In California, for example, malls are considered a public gathering place, and protests that don't interfere with business activity can't be blocked.
In 1996, four years after the Mall of America opened, a small animal rights protest gathered in front of the Macy's department store, picketing and handing out leaflets to protest the store's sale of fur coats.
The protesters were arrested and charged with trespassing. Their case went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in 1998 that the Minnesota constitution's free speech protections do not apply at the privately owned mall.