Black Lives Matter protest disrupts MOA, airport travel; a dozen arrested

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Police contingent gathers.
Law enforcement gathered near the light rail platform at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport's Terminal 2. A protest that started at the Mall of America Wednesday afternoon migrated to the airport.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Updated: Dec. 24, 8:43 a.m. | Posted: Dec. 23, 7:45 p.m.

A demonstration involving hundreds of people disrupted shopping at the Mall of America and affected travelers moving through the Twin Cities airport on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Bloomington police and Twin Cities airport officials say a dozen people were arrested in connection with the protests Wednesday — eight at the airport (six for unlawful assembly and trespassing, two for gross misdemeanor obstruction of a legal process with force) and four at the mall (three for trespassing and one for trespassing and disorderly conduct).

Hoping to draw attention to a recent fatal police shooting of a black man in Minneapolis, the demonstration by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis started on the east side of the Bloomington megamall. Mall officials told stores in that area to close by 12:45 p.m. Mall security set up barricades and officers from at least a half dozen agencies were stationed to keep protesters contained.

The exact number of Bloomington police officers working during the protests wasn't immediately available, but Deputy Chief Denis Otterness said more than 100 officers were out at the time of the protest.

Protesters marched with fists raised in the mall's hallways, but "participants" were soon told to leave or be arrested.

Once mall officials called for the protesters to disperse, hundreds of people filed onto light rail trains. They got off at the airport and tried to enter both terminals.

Protesters on the move
After gathering briefly at the mall's rotunda, Black Lives Matter protesters headed to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Here, protesters get off a light rail train at the airport's Terminal 2.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

A statement issued by the group said the mall protest was a planned diversion, and that demonstrators were actually targeting the two terminals at the airport. They said they wanted to call attention to what they called "Islamophobia" and racial disparities in airport policing — although the group didn't single out Minnesota's airport in particular.

At one point Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen protesters blocked the road leading to Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. They were surrounded by law enforcement officials as they left the road.

Gov. Mark Dayton called the protests at the airport irresponsible.

Dayton told MPR News that while he is sympathetic to the racial inequities that Black Lives Matter protesters were highlighting, the disruption was the wrong way to address racial disparities.

"That was an extremely dangerous situation that was created there, with traffic being blocked to access the airport. You had bad weather conditions yesterday, people trying to make flights, pick up people," he said. "That's way beyond what I think is an acceptable, or I should say, a responsible use of the public right to free expression and free assembly under the First Amendment."

During the moving protest, some shoppers were briefly stuck in mall entrances. Charles Grant of Richfield got caught in a group of demonstrators.

"I just got off work," Grant said. "I came up here to do some last-minute shopping for my wife and kids. This is crazy."

The Mall of America said in a statement that 80 stores on the mall's east side were closed for about an hour, but the rest of the building remained open. The statement repeated the mall's policy that prohibits political demonstrations and protests on its property.

"That policy is in place to protect the safety of all Mall of America guests, employees and tenants. The organizers of today's protest were well aware of that policy. We respect the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly. However, the courts have affirmed our right as private property owners to prohibit demonstrations on our property," according to the statement.

Security moves into place.
Mall of America security blocked access to the rotunda on the first and second floors with barricades and officers in advance of the demonstration Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Light rail trains and buses stopped running in the area of the mall and airport in midafternoon, leaving some stuck in the closest transit station to the mall and at the Fort Snelling light rail station.

Airport spokesperson Patrick Hogan said security checkpoints were closed for 45 minutes and some travelers missed their flights. Hogan said protests are allowed at the airport, but only with the proper permits.

"They can't get in the way of the operation of the airport," he said of protesters. "It's unfortunate for people who are trying to catch a plane to go see family and friends for the Christmas holiday."

For weeks, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis has held a number of protests, demanding investigators release video and other recordings that could show the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark.

Reporters Brandt Williams, Mukhtar Ibrahim and Cody Nelson contributed to this story.

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