Black Lives Matter Minneapolis held a vigil and press conference on recently to deliver the signatures of 45,000 people, including 3,000 faith leaders from around the country, to Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson demanding that charges be dropped against the organizers of the peaceful protest at the Mall of America in December 2014. Community leaders came together that day as defendants facing criminal charges assembled back in court to hear responses from the judge about previously filed motions to dismiss by the defense. “As a Christian pastor, I have felt compelled to stand with my kindred in Black Lives Matter. These charges are an abuse of power leveraged against peaceful protesters and they must be dropped,” said the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel, who organized a Groundswell Petition that 3000 faith leaders from around the country have rallied behind. Dr. Voelkel is secretary of the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ.
“The Mall of America protest proclaimed that the terrorization of people of color through police violence and mass incarceration must stop, “said Lena K. Gardner, a member of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. “The gathering was a beautiful expression of peaceful protest and was filled with clergy, families, activists and artists who sang, preached, spoke-out and engaged in a powerful die-in. But instead of receiving the multiracial, peaceful ritual as a witness for justice, the Mall of America and the City of Bloomington responded with police in military and riot gear, and unjust charges. It was an over-reaction.”
Along with Voelkel, several UCC pastors and laypeople were involved in this organizing effort and press conference, including the Rev. Ashley Harness (Lyndale UCC, Minneapolis), the Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries (Mayflower UCC, Minneapolis) and the Rev. Eliot Howard (Linden Hills UCC, Minneapolis). Many involved are from ONA churches and Voelkel used the ONA Coalition network to gather support for the petitions.
In December 2014, more than 3,000 people of all ages, races and religious traditions gathered at the Mall of America for a peaceful protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and calling for just livable wages, an end to police brutality and violence against Brown and Black people, and an end to mass incarceration of people of color.
In response, the City of Bloomington assembled police in military and riot gear. “What started as a demonstration of Dr. King’s vision of the ‘beloved community,’ became a reminder of what Dr. King warned could destroy our nation: the triple giants of racism, militarism, and extreme materialism,” said Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of the protestors.
The Mall of America and the City of Bloomington followed their militarized response by infiltrating meetings and surveilling social media to identify the protest organizers and charge them with multiple offenses, including trespassing—an action that even former prosecutors have called a misuse of power. Instead of protecting the powerless from the powerful–the mandate from our faith traditions and, indeed, the core ethical responsibility of our legal system—Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson has used her great power to buttress the powerful against those who hold far less power.
People from around the country, including over 3000 faith leaders, have been shocked and appalled by the actions of the City of Bloomington and have joined the movement to demand that charges be dropped.