As the initial court date for the MOA 11 (plus 25 more arrested that day) intersects with the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, I can't help but reflect on the fact that we're still negotiating black life in relationship to public spaces. Like Selma, we're being forced to defend a multiracial group of community leaders from an arcane legal argument.
In the summer of 1964, in response to a voting rights organizing campaign and a number of bloody attacks sanctioned by the local sheriff, a Selma judge ordered that it was illegal for more than three people to congregate, making organizing virtually impossible. The march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday defied this order—and state troopers attacked the marchers violently. Organizers filed for court protection for another, larger march, in spite of the injunction against them. The judge ruled in favor of the organizers, changing the law and joining the right side of history.
The legal system isn’t blind or fixed in time. It adjusts to the circumstances and needs of its era—but too often it has been used to serve the interests of the privileged and wealthy, white male landowners, and corporations. The choice to prosecute “organizers” of the Mall of America protest fits into a long historical pattern of using legal discretion to undermine and persecute people of color organizing for change.
Many of our staff and members were involved in the event, and many of the folks being charged are former NOC staff and leaders. A quick look into the organizing history of those involved will show a deliberate commitment to non-violent actions, a commitment that was fully lived out on the day of the protest. The primary disruptive action that day was the militarized response to peaceful protesters. Store owners reported that day the mall required them to close because they were on “lockdown,” a procedure also used for terrorism drills. If business was disrupted and revenue lost, look no further than this militarized overreaction as the source.
One week before the Black Lives Matter protest, 7,000 people gathered—about twice the number who attended the protest—for a musical commemoration of a late local songwriter. With this practice just a week before, the Mall should have been well prepared for how to deal with a large group of people in their rotunda. But instead, it called on a fully mobilized police force—and then blamed organizers for the mall’s overreaction.
The Mall of America is an integral part of Minnesota's culture and economy. It employs 11,000 people, generates $2 billion in annual revenue, and is a top tourist destination in the United States—and has received millions in subsidies from Minnesota taxpayers. In a state with some of the worst equity gaps in the nation, you need to ask yourself: are we positioning the Mall of America to be part of the solution, or an articulation of the problem?
Be on the right side of history. Drop the charges.