MINNEAPOLIS - The Mall of America has filed for a restraining order against leaders of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in an attempt to head off a protest scheduled for one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
The legal documents, filed in Hennepin County Court, name BLM leaders Michael McDowell, Miski Noor, Lena Gardner, Kandace Montgomery and four others named only as John Does 1 through 4 as defendants. The request for the temporary restraining order says BLM has been using its Facebook and Twitter pages to promote a demonstration at the Mall of America's East Rotunda at 1 p.m. on December 23, 2015.
In asking for a restraining order, attorneys for MOA point to a similar protest held on December 20, 2014 involving approximately 1,000 protesters inside the mall. A number of the demonstrators were arrested and charged with trespassing. The legal action maintains that MOA and its tenants suffered irreparable harm, including reduced guests and sales. The mall says traffic counts for the number of cars entering parking ramps on that day were down 15 percent from statistics from the previous five years, which translates into 24,000 fewer shoppers. Mall attorneys maintain that many retailers reported double digit decreases in sales on December 20,2014, the date of that demonstration.
MOA asserts that it is a private commercial retail center that prohibits "all forms of protest, demonstration and public debate." The mall is asking a Hennepin County Judge to prohibit the planned December 23 protest, to block organizers from encouraging others to protest, and to order BLM leaders to remove any social media posts that reference or attempt to recruit people to take part in the planned protest.
The filing also asks that BLM leaders immediately post any legal documents on social media if the court grants a temporary restraining order or permanent injunctive relief.
During a court hearing Monday afternoon, Judge Karen Janisch heard arguments by attorneys for the mall and protest organizers. Mall attorney Susan Gaertner says it is private property and that the owners prohibit demonstrations.
"This is not about free speech. this is not about whether or not these folks have a good cause. of course they have a good cause. this about where you demonstrate. and you demonstrate in places like this. in a court house. Mall of America on Wednesday is a place to take your kids and shop," Gaertner said.
Black Lives Matter leaders say regardless of any legal issues, the the protest will happen as planned.
"We're not going to be cancling the protest. No the people have a right to show up. We have a right to say what our message is. We have a right to speak out. And us not showing up and us not speaking would be the mall winning," said Miski Noor.
"We think it is unconstitutional because it is too broad," said Charles Samuelson, Minnesota Civil Liberties Union. "They want to restrict all sorts of speech. They want to censor basically social media. and it is unconstitutional because they're going after speech."
"Part of me feels that if the Mall of America had simply said come on down from 1 to 3 on Wednesday, have your demonstration and shop at the mall, two things would happen: way fewer people would turn out and they'd make some money," Samuelson added.
Jordan Kushner, an attorney for the protest organizers, says the mall still doesn't have the right to ban speech.
Judge Janisch did not say when she would make a ruling, but all indications are it will come Tuesday morning.