The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel of the Lyndale United Church of Christ stood outside a courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center, holding a stack of papers about a foot tall.
“I’m holding petitions with 45,000 signatures asking all charges be dropped,” Voelkel said. “About 3,000 of them are religious leaders from around the country.”
The reason for the petition, and for Voelkel’s presence at the government center in Minneapolis earlier this week, was to support the “MOA11,” the group charged with a variety of misdemeanors relating to the Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America last December.
At a hearing on Tuesday, the 11 defendants argued for the charges brought against them by the City of Bloomington to be dropped due to lack of evidence. But the hearing was only part of the day’s events: Along with the petition, more than 100 supporters also held a rally for the defendants and packed the courtroom to capacity.
Among them was a group that has become something of a constant presence at Black Lives Matter events: those like Voelkel, faith leaders from local congregations who have not only become outspoken advocates of the movement, but active collaborators with BLM organizers.
Voelkel, who participated in the December protest, said that religious leaders from all different faiths approached her after the MOA event, hoping to offer help to the BLM organizers who had been charged with crimes. “It was their urging to put this petition together,” she said.
For many religious communities, the sort of equality that BLM is fighting for is at the heart of their beliefs. The protest at the Mall of America, for example, exemplified the kind of justice her faith teaches, said Lyndale United Church of Christ Pastor Ashley Harness. “This was an act of peaceful, nonviolent protest.”
Another minister, the Rev. Justin Schroeder of the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, is glad to see more communities of faith getting involved in matters of race, he said, since they’re often complicit when it comes to addressing what he calls the “racial crisis in our country.”
The Rev. Kristin Maier, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northfield, voiced a common theme among those at the hearing Tuesday, saying she hopes Bloomington drops the charges against the organizers because peaceful protesting is vital to a working democracy. The MOA event, she said, helped raise more awareness regarding nationwide racial issues. She said it’s wrong for Bloomington to use public resources to prosecute those who organized it. “African Americans aren’t being treated with dignity and worth,” Maier said. “I want to do my part to try and change that.”
This week’s hearing focused on the defendants’ argument that the case should be dismissed due to a lack of evidence in the case. Among other things, the defendants say the City of Bloomington can’t prove a direct link between organizers and specific people they “aided and abetted” in trespassing — one of several charges against the defendants.
The 90-minute hearing adjourned without establishing probable cause for the defendants, and Judge Peter Cahill agreed to set another court date within the next 30 days to determine what will be dismissed and what will move forward in the case. “We’ll get this done by January,” Cahill said to some laughter, an acknowledgement that case has already seen its fair share of delays.