BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Protesters used public transit to hamper operations of major Twin Cities facilities Wednesday, including the Mall of America and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Hundreds filled the East Rotunda at the Mall of America in support of the Black Live Matter movement, which is seeking the release of video by the Minneapolis Police Department of the November shooting death of Jamar Clark. Clark was shot in the head by an officer and some witnesses claim he was in handcuffs.
The mall had dozens of uniformed security officers and police from several Twin Cities agencies on hand for the afternoon protest, which mall management sought to prevent through a county court injunction. Judge Karen Janisch declined to grant the mall’s request on Tuesday.
Mall of America tenants on the east side of the building were closed early Wednesday afternoon ahead of the protest. Two store managers said the closures were at the direction of mall management.
After starting chants of “no justice, no peace” and “release the tapes” — referring to the video of Clark’s death — protesters by the hundreds left the mall and packed light rail trains to the airport, where they briefly shut down roadways to both terminals on one of the busiest flying days of the year.
Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said he was not aware of any delays in flights because of the protest.
Gov. Mark Dayton said the protest, in addition to increasingly bad winter weather, made for a “very, very dangerous situation.”
“I would ask them please stop barring access to the airport,” he told WCCO radio while protesters remained at the airport.
“We have a lot of people traveling…” Dayton said. “We have bad weather backing things up further.”
Inside Terminal 2, security checkpoints were shut down to prevent protesters from moving into secure areas and the situation “remains fluid,” an airport spokesman said at mid-afternoon. The airport is the second busiest in the Midwest after Chicago’s O’Hare.
Dayton said police did not expect protesters to show up at the airport. “They have been scrambling.”
Airport officials reported at mid-afternoon that the facility remained open, but in a series of tweets warned travelers there would be delays getting to both terminals.
The first tweet came a little after 2 p.m.: “Protesters are currently blocking the Terminal 1-Lindbergh inbound roadway, causing traffic backups. Leave extra early to allow time.”
Later, the airport Twitter account added: “Future impacts are unclear, stay tuned for updates.”
Throughout mid-afternoon, protesters shut down roads to one terminal, then the other. One photographer at the airport said he overheard police asking each other whether they should let them into the terminal or keep them out; the decision was to keep them out.
There were arrests at the airport, but it was not immediately known how many.
By 3:30 p.m., airport officials said checkpoints were reopened at Terminal 2 and passenger screening resumed.
Metro Transit said via Twitter service on the Blue Line, the route that runs to and from the Mall of America and MSP airport, was disrupted from Fort Snelling to both airport terminals shortly before 3 p.m., and alternate bus shuttles were being used to help relieve congestion.
The Black Lives Matter Minneapolis Twitter account — @BlackLivesMpls — posted Wednesday afternoon “We’ve just shut down the mall, the lightrail, AND the airport. Jamar won’t celebrate Christmas this year, so we shut it ALL down.”
Dayton told reporters Wednesday that he plans separate meetings with Black Lives Matter and NAACP officials next week as he prepares proposals to help erase economic disparities between white and black Minnesotans.
He has proposed spending $15 million during a special legislative session he wants to call on other issues. While that amount is not nearly enough, he said, it would be a start before the regular session begins March 8.
“It is an important statement of our goodwill and our intentions,” Dayton said about the $15 million.
The governor said he wants input from the black community to write a proposal about how to spend the money.
Legislative leaders are expected to have their own group looking into what can be done on the issue in a special session.
He said the state sent about 30 troopers to help Bloomington police with the mall protest, which on Wednesday morning he said he hoped would be peaceful.
He said that he “remains sympathetic to the goals of Black Lives Matter,” but a judge Tuesday ruled a protest in the private mall is against the law.
Dayton often has criticized Black Lives Matter tactics while supporting their aims.
“I would, with all respect, question the need for this demonstration,” he said.
While last year the group protested at the mall over police shooting blacks in other parts of the country, this year, the demonstration centered around Clark’s death.
The group also wants Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to decide on his own to prosecute police officers involved in the shooting, although he plans to submit the case to a grand jury. Black Lives Matter supporters, and others around the country, say grand juries tend not to indict police.
On Monday, Black Lives Matter released a statement saying it wanted federal terrorism charges filed against four men who entered a protest around a Minneapolis police precinct. They men face state charges in the incident, with one accused of shooting and injuring protesters.
“What they ask for is being undertaken,” Dayton said.
Video of the Clark shooting scene cannot be released, he said, because authorities fear that could harm the investigation.