Judge dismisses charges against mall protest organizers

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2015 5:19 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota judge Tuesday dismissed charges against organizers of a "Black Lives Matter" protest that drew thousands of demonstrators to the Mall of America.

The protest last December disrupted Christmas shopping at the privately owned venue. But Hennepin County Chief Judge Peter Cahill ruled that it was peaceful and "not subversive."

Organizers of the protest had faced misdemeanor charges of aiding and abetting trespass, aiding and abetting unlawful assembly, and aiding and abetting disorderly conduct.

In a 137-page decision, Cahill dismissed all charges against the 11 organizers, but left in place trespass charges against some individual participants, the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1WLgaNr ) reported.

"We stand proud today. We stand vindicated today," said University of St. Thomas law professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of the protest organizers. "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.

The Dec. 20 rally was part of protests nationwide after police officers weren't charged in the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri.

Levy-Pounds, who recently was named president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said the prosecutor, Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson, "dug in her heels. But we knew that the charges could not stand."

Bloomington City Manager Jamie Verbrugge said the city is reviewing the ruling.

"Our overriding concern is public safety for our community and the thousands of people who come to Bloomington to visit Mall of America every day," Verbrugge said in a written statement.

The Mall of America's policy does not allow protests. Johnson had cited a 1999 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that the mall is private property where constitutional free speech protections don't apply.

In his order, Cahill said no group possesses a constitutional right to political demonstration over the objection of the mall's ownership and management. But while the demonstration was unauthorized and conducted over the objection of mall management, the judge wrote that "nothing about it was subversive. It was, in fact, highly publicized. As some might say, that was rather the point."

The judge said he had viewed many hours of the demonstration from various perspectives, including the parking ramp, skyway and outside areas. He called the demonstration "peaceful," saying he saw only very small tests of will between police, security and demonstrators in the 90 minutes after the main protest.

Mall officials and Bloomington police had warned the demonstrators they would not approve a gathering inside the building and offered them an outdoor space to protest.

Garner, an unarmed black man, was placed in a chokehold by a white police officer during a confrontation on a Staten Island street over loose cigarettes on July 17, 2014. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the office in December.

Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was fatally shot by a white police officer during a struggle in August 2014. A St. Louis County grand jury and the Department of Justice ultimately exonerated officer Darren Wilson, concluding that evidence backed Wilson's claim that he shot Brown in self-defense after Brown tried to grab the officer's gun.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com