Students for a Democratic Society condemns the repression of activists related to the protest of thousands of people at the Mall of America on December 20, 2014 organized by #Black Lives Matters. The actions of the city of Bloomington, their police department, and city prosecutor Sandra Johnson have been excessive and irresponsible. The intimidation, surveillance and militarized police presence exercised against protesters exercising their rights highlights the repression of the civil rights and the flagrant priorities of private property over the rights of citizens.
The December 20, 2014 #Black Lives Matters protest was a righteous act following in a long tradition of lunch counter sit-ins and similar acts of peaceful civil disobedience to protest racism and white supremacy dating back deep into American history. The response to the protest have been chilling in their similarities to historic repression of past movements including spying, infiltration, intimidation, and a militarized repressive response reminiscent of the days of Co-Intel-Pro and the violent and excessive response of local Southern white police to civil rights protest.
Despite attempts to intimidate organizers and community members attending in the days and weeks before the protest, the turn out was overwhelming. Little did organizers know that the city of Bloomington had sent plainclothes police officers to spy on organizers and public meetings held to plan the event. These were meetings beyond the Bloomington city limits and jurisdiction. The city also used social media to spy on organizers and to document and record participants at the event. The police also visited organizers Nick Espinosa and Mica Grimm at their residents outside of the city limits of Bloomington in the days and weeks before the protest. They and other organizers did not back down from intimidation. Finally and perhaps most troubling, it has recently been revealed that the city seized the private Facebook information of community activist Nick Espinosa. This reach of the city to spy on citizens organizing a protest is a breach of trust and a part of an ongoing threat to civil rights.
The city of Bloomington and its prosecutor Sandra Johnson have made a choice from the start to protect private property, intimidate activists, and to prosecute and demand citizens exercising their rights pay the tab for the cities choice to provide private security for private property. Johnson explicitly states her goal to seek restitution for lost private profits for the mall, which was shut down only as a result of the militarized presence and tactics of the city and its police. Without any sense of responsibility for its excessive force and legal and extrajudicial reach, Johnson and the city of Bloomington also fail to mention the annual $250 million in public taxes that the Mall of America receives while enjoying the status of private property.
A major contradiction exists in the form of who is allowed to gather in the space, highlighting Johnson and the cities choice of intimidation and repression. Johnson claimed both before and after the event that it was illegal to invite people to the Mall of America on social media. In stark contrast though, vigils and large congregations happen regularly at the mall both public and private. A year earlier a large, similarly unpermitted gathering, was held with to honor the life of a local young white man who had recently died of cancer. Johnson did not respond by asking the organizers to move the gathering across the street off private property. Johnson made a choice then and she is making choices again now. Her choices and those of the city now, are to uphold the right of gatherings only for some but not for others. That is to say, Bloomington and Johnson implicitly suggest that while the lives of young white men is worth honoring, those of young black and brown men and women are not. The denial of space to honor and mourn the lives of young black and brown youth who have been killed is not just a grave injustice but clear evidence of the white supremacy and racism of the city, the police and legal system.
The 10 organizers being prosecuted are: Anthony McDowell, Mica Lauren Grimm, Kandace Leanna Montgomery, Catherine Claire Salonek, Todd Allen Dahlstrom, Adja Sara Gildersleve, Shannon Lee Bade, Jie Rose Wronksi-Riley, Amity Labaube Foster and Nekima Levy-Pounds. These defendants face 8 different charges, with penalties that could mean up to 2 years in prison and fines of $8,000 each.
The choice to prosecute these young activists and organizers is one condemned by many organization including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU released a statement that stated, “it is unfortunate that the Bloomington city attorney has chosen to focus so much time, energy, and taxpayer resources to pursue vengeance for a peaceful gathering… rather than joining the dialogue that has arisen from this national movement.”
From the start the city of Bloomington, the police and the prosecutor have all acted irrationally and excessively to uphold private property, deny civil rights and to highlight their systems racism. History will judge them as they attempt to prosecute those people who have truly stood up for justice and spoke out against racism and intolerance. Students for a Democratic Society says: “Hands Off Activists! Black Lives Matter! Charge us too!”