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Dec 20, 2014 4:52 PM

Police brutality protesters rally at Mall of America

The Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) A mass of demonstrators chanting, "Black lives matter," converged in the Mall of America rotunda Saturday as part of a protest against police brutality that caused part of the mall to shut down on a busy day for holiday shopping.

The group Black Lives Matter Minneapolis had more than 3,000 people confirm on Facebook that they would attend. Official crowd estimates weren't immediately available, but pictures posted to social media by local news organizations showed the rotunda was full. Organizer Mica Grimm estimated about 3,000 people participated.

The rally is part of protests happening nationwide after officers weren't charged in the deaths of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York.

During the rally, protesters shouted "While you're on your shopping spree, black people cannot breathe" a reference to the chokehold police placed on Eric Garner, who died in New York. As they were dispersing, they walked down the hall with their arms raised, shouting "Hands up, don't shoot!" That saying has been used in Ferguson, Missouri, in protests against the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and in demonstrations elsewhere.

Bloomington police said 25 people were arrested, mainly for reasons such as trespassing. Commander Mark Stehlik said he was not aware of any injuries or property damage.

Mall representatives had warned protesters in advance that they could be removed, arrested and banned. The mall's management issued a statement Saturday saying it was "extremely disappointed" that protest organizers ignored the policy banning political protests.

"It's clear from their actions that these political activists were more concerned about making a political statement and creating a media event than they were about the safety of others, who came to Mall of America for an afternoon of shopping and family entertainment," the statement said.

About 30 minutes after the planned protest began, a final warning to disperse was given, and police in riot gear began clearing the rotunda, the Star Tribune reported. A large group of protesters began leaving the mall, but others migrated to a shopping area and occupied two levels. A small "die-in" was staged in front of several stores.

About an hour later, organizers sent out a group text message advising those who were still inside to exit. Live video from KSTP-TV showed police in riot gear marching through the mall's skyway, ushering protesters outside.

The Mall of America had increased security, and certain parts of the mall were closed for some time. Signs were posted at some entrances advising shoppers that the east side of the mall was on lockdown. The mall's statement said the east side was shut down for the safety of shoppers and retailers while police were clearing the mall. All stores had reopened by Saturday evening.

"While we respect the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, those rights do not trump our right as private property owners to prohibit that behavior on our property," the mall said Saturday.

Grimm told the AP that organizers believed the protest was a success.

"Our goal is to bring more attention to these issues and what just happened, nobody can ignore," she said.


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