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Charges dropped against organizers of Black Lives Matter protest at Mall of America

Judge Peter Cahill dismissed charges against the leaders of the Dec. 20 protest, but some demonstrators still face trial for trespassing.

Black Lives Matter protestor Adja Gildersleve
Photo by Elliot Malcolm

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill has dismissed charges against the 11 organizers of last winter’s Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America, which shut down parts of the mall five days before Christmas. But charges against 17 of the demonstrators for trespassing and obstruction were upheld and trials will be scheduled, he said.

The Dec. 20 event had been called to bring attention to national cases involving police shootings and attracted about 2,000 protesters.

The Bloomington City Attorney’s office filed misdemeanor charges against the leaders for aiding and abetting trespass, aiding and abetting unlawful assembly, and aiding and abetting disorderly conduct.

Even while dismissing the charges against the organizers, Judge Cahill, who is a former Hennepin County prosecutor, did note that the mall is private property and that “no citizen and no group possesses a constitutional right under either the United States or Minnesota Constitution to conduct political demonstrations at the MOA over the express objection of MOA ownership and management.”

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He wrote in the decision:

Although the BLM demonstration was unauthorized and went forward over the express objection of MOA management, nothing about it was subversive. It was, in fact, highly publicized. As some might say, that was rather the point.

He also wrote:  

Although the MOA did not authorize the demonstration, the manner in which MOA management and security officers acted during the first thirty minutes of the demonstration evinces a tacit decision to allow a brief demonstration before MOA management took affirmative, decisive action requiring everyone present in the locked-down, east side to leave the mall. There is no evidence in this case that any of the Leader/Organizers actively opposed BPD or MOA security officers’ efforts to force everyone to leave the mall after that decision was announced after 2:30 p.m., encouraged others to defy those orders, sought to incite unrest, rioting or other violence, or counseled any individual to remain in the mall and be arrested for trespass or obstruction.

The Star Tribune quotes Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of the 11 so-called ringleaders, who had charges against her dropped:

We stand proud today. We stand vindicated today. And we continue to stand in solidarity with people across the country who are declaring that Black Lives Matter and who are disrupting the status quo in their attempts to get justice.

Judge Cahill made a fair and just decision in dismissing our charges. We knew they were trumped-up charges and we were being politically prosecuted by the Bloomington city attorney’s office.

Levy-Pounds is a University of St. Thomas law professor and president of the Minneaolis NAACP.

Judge Cahill noted:

While, fortunately, the large-scale BLM demonstration at the MOA did not erupt in violence, rioting, physical injury, or destruction to mall property, the specter of such possible outcomes remains a legitimate (and omnipresent) concern for MOA ownership and management and law enforcement personnel in the City of Bloomington.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the dismissal of the charges against the organizers, but said the trespassing charges, too, should be dismissed.

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ACLU-MN Executive Director Charles Samuelson said: “We applaud the decision to dismiss charges against Montgomery and 11 others but we continue to call on Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson to dismiss the charges against all of the defendants.”

And Black Lives Matter Minneapolis issued this statement: 

“BLM Minneapolis will continue to support those with charges still standing, protestors shouldn’t be punished for standing up for Black lives.”