Minnesota was my home when I started this website and I have a great deal of respect for the organizing and advocacy that goes on in the Twin Cities. I sat down with Lena K. Gardner a good friend and organizer while in Minneapolis over the New Year holiday. She graciously helped me pull together the essential pieces for this post.
-Filiberto Nolasco Gomez with contributions from Lena K. Gardner
In response to the ongoing killings of black youth by the guns of police and complicity of prosecutors and civic leaders, organizers in Minnesota took to the Mall of America on the busiest shopping day of the year to make their views known.
A Storify article describes the scene; "On Saturday, December 20th, 3,000 protesters descended upon Mall of America for #BlackChristmas to stand in solidarity with victims of police brutality in Minnesota and nationally. #WeCantBreathe+
Mall of America didn't take too kindly to the peaceful demonstration. Threats have been issued by the City Attorney's Office in Bloomington that protest organizers will be criminally prosecuted."
Protestors took to caroling to express their frustration
Wired described the protest as one of the more frightening moments of the yeah, noting that;
"Mall of America demonstration produced both a lawsuit and the below image, one of the most dystopian symbols of 2014 (very Ukrainian of you, Bloomington).”
Commenting on the actions of police in a report on CBS Local;
"'That is how racism works.' Lena K. Gardner, of the group Black Lives Matter, says several groups took part in organizing Saturday's protest. "We came to sing carols and raise awareness. And the Bloomington police are the ones who shut down the mall, not us." Gardner compared it to December of last year, when thousands gathered in the rotunda to sing a song written by a young man who died of cancer, Zach Sobiech. She says that group was raising awareness of cancer, and the mall allowed it. She thinks the mall should have been as welcoming to Saturday's group and their message.'"
Businessweek noted that City Attorney Johnson, "plans to file criminal charges next week against leaders of the demonstration, perhaps for aiding and abetting unlawful assembly or aiding and abetting public nuisance. Along with mall security videos to identify the organizers, prosecutors plan to scour Facebook (FB) posts and media interviews. “Who led that march through the Mall of America?” Johnson said to the local CBS station Monday night. “If we can identify those people who were inciting others to continue with this illegal activity, we can consider charges against them too.
Protesters are urging the city—and the mall—to relent. In a statement posted on the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis Facebook Page, activists wrote, “It’s clear that the Bloomington City government, at the behest of one of the largest centers of commerce in the country, hopes to set a precedent that will stifle dissent and instill fear into young people of color and allies who refuse to watch their brothers and sisters get gunned down in the streets with no consequences.” They urged supporters to call the city and the mall to register their opposition and to tweet at both with a new hashtag: #ChargeMeToo""
What this case bares to mind is the how police are now increasingly using Facebook to track and prosecute activists.
Perception and rhetoric aside Minneapolis suffers from serious racial disparities that often get overlooked due to the cities reputations and pride in being a liberal hotbed in the Midwest
A recent ACLU report outlines these racial disparities. From CSBLocal:
"The ACLU report, which uses the police department’s own data, covers white and African American arrest rates for four low-level nonviolent offenses, including marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, vagrancy and juvenile curfew violations/loitering.
The report reveals that between 2004 and 2012, an African American individual is, on average, 11.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white individual, 16.39 times more likely to be arrested for curfew/loitering, 8.86 times more likely to be arrested for disorderly conduct and 7.54 times more likely to be arrested for vagrancy."
Now that we have laid out the general parameters of what happened Lena and I wanted to focus for a moment on the interpersonal dynamics that have emerged. While it would be easy to interrogate the reactionary responses of those that are threatened by politically conscious folks of color asserting themselves, like the voicemail below;
"If this is the Lena K. Gardner that was on tv for organizing the protest at the Mall of America - I hope you pay for all the damage you caused to merchants. I hope bankruptcy is in your near future. You're just stupid. Bye."
or this message:
"I hope they charge every last one of you. You all ask for accountability from others while at the same time refuse to accept accountability on your own part. it's time you all grow up and stop acting like petulant little children. You broke the dam law. You deserve the consequences."
Or what sometimes appears on the ChipsterLife FB page;
“White privilege-a term used by some people who didn't work hard enough to lift them or their family out into a better life.”
Lena and I instead want to explore how folks within our circles reacted and invite you, the reader, to share your thoughts in the comment field. Once we get some comments we will then put together a follow up piece with your words, thoughts and reflections. To have complete strangers say ridiculous things is one thing but to instead have folks within our circles of trust express suspicion over our activism is quite another, more harmful and perplexing phenomena.
Lena shared the following exchange from a friend:
"I only have a quick moment but I have been following your fb and what has been going on...My family and I have dealt with racism all of our lives, from having stones thrown at me at the bus stop when I was a little girl, to having racial slurs in my ear during class, to acts of violence... so, some of what I see with the organization, I understand, but I don't see how breaking the law will get you there?..I understand the intent of the outcome, as to educate and make people think, but from what I see, that isn't the direction of the actions of your organization...the MOA thing was always going to be an illegal act, as there was never permission...Is everyone in the organization black? and if so, was that already known? There were many white and mixed people there that I saw as well..I understand, I just didn't want to put it out on FB..but it is difficult, because it was known it was going to be an illegal act. the message you are trying to get across is unfortunately overcast by that fact...we could, but I do think we are not on the same page.....at least with the direction of action taken...like I said, I have lived it, and continue to live it myself."
We both reflected that our first ring of friends, those that can be expected to run into at a protest without needing to call or work with us directly can be expected to be in solidarity. It is that second ring of friends that are more unpredictable. Maybe someone you have known for several years but haven't been in contact in awhile? Or a friend from childhood that you have grown apart from as you have committed yourself more to the struggle. Lena and I have noticed that folks like to establish themselves with some sort of mention of past experiences of oppression or a history of activism. What surprises us is how much these groups of friends are aligned to or are sympathetic with management. Lena and I both recognize that meaningful change in this country, especially for communities of color have rarely come about through legal mechanisms. Change comes from those devoted to a cause despite the apparent risks that are presented when riot police make their presence felt. In reality what we worry about is whether these friends have internalized their oppression and instead of focusing their aggravation on those that harm our communities, they are instead attacking us! This piece was intended to grapple with these issues and perhaps come up with solutions, instead Lena and I realized that this is too big for the both of us to make sense of. We need your hope! We are reaching out to the readers so you can offer perspective and guidance around these complicated questions.
Part of what inspired this line of inquiry is a former workplace. It was a very toxic environment with a lot of animosity directed among a majority people of color staff. I had never seen anything has horrible, there was almost a fist fight in the middle of the office. It was not uncommon to have co workers openly discuss there anxiety meds and line up various medications on there desk in the mornings. It broke my heart every day to walk into the office and see so many talented and devoted folks of color really tear into each other, harm each other. It had me reflecting on how we internalize our oppression and project it onto those that are closer to us instead of the structural forces that really do us harm.
In considering the activism around #blacklivesmatter we also want pay homage to the queer women of color that began the movement. In her own words #Blacklivesmatter Co-Founder Alica Garza in Feminist Wire:
"#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free. This is why we call on Black people and our allies to take up the call that Black lives matter. We’re not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways. We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.
“We completely expect those who benefit directly and improperly from White supremacy to try and erase our existence. We fight that every day. But when it happens amongst our allies, we are baffled, we are saddened, and we are enraged. And it’s time to have the political conversation about why that’s not okay.”
In 2014, hetero-patriarchy and anti-Black racism within our movement is real and felt. It’s killing us and it’s killing our potential to build power for transformative social change. When you adopt the work of queer women of color, don’t name or recognize it, and promote it as if it has no history of its own such actions are problematic. When I use Assata’s powerful demand in my organizing work, I always begin by sharing where it comes from, sharing about Assata’s significance to the Black Liberation Movement, what it’s political purpose and message is, and why it’s important in our context."
On a final note. My own personal reflections on the killings of black folks in the United States have to do with the nature of violence and the treatment of bodies. Has a scholar on Guatemala on the armed conflict and genocide in Guatemala, I have spent the better part of my adult life fixated on state sanctioned killings. There are all sorts of different complicated theories and explanations for targeted killings but the uncomfortable reality, the one that haunts my dreams and jars my mental stability, is that darker bodies are treated as disposable. These darker bodies tend to be killed in mass whenever they show any threat. These collective, targeted killings against particular populations may be considered genocide. In Guatemala it was never about communism or land it just whittled down to the State's desire to eradicate a perceived threat by a disposable group of people, in this case the indigenous Maya. The other aspect that I reflect on as I read a lot about Michael Brown is how his assassinated body was left there for hours on the street. From a tactical and strategic perspective this is what the State and its political actors do to send a clear message to the community on the ground and at large. Something akin to "fuck you, your lives don't matter to us and this is what we can and will do to you whenever we want."
- In Solidarity
I noticed there are exsncrious to the Millenium Mall or the Mall at Millenia.First of all, are they the same place haha.And is it different to the Florida Mall if it isn’t the same place.It’s such a confusing question and subject, it would be great if someone who has experienced both or the one if they could tell me what they are like.And my final question is. How far is each Mall away from International Drive miles or time-wise.Much Appreciated with Many Thanks.Grant.
on April 01, 2015
It seems to be haenpping all over America. It’s been haenpping out here in California over the last five years or so. Pasadena’s Mall has built luxury apartments that almost cost more than the average home out here. They can watch the Rose Parade from their windows. The Santa Anita Race Track is in the process of the legalities of a Mall with built in apartments. A lot of Malls with residences are going up around the Metro Train stations and the (Gold, Red, Blue, Green) line station stops.It’s an effort to cut down on traffic and gas consumption. Only problem is, what you don’t spend on gas you spend on rent. The energy crisis is making money for everyone except the regular joe working for a living. It’s also a way around, or a way of rewriting zoning laws, or at least making money for the city from them.As our population expands we need more and more housing. Our large cities like, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, etc. are way too crowded and people still keep moving in, so something has to be done. Traffic is getting murderous, literally! The effect will probably be more business for the Malls because the customers are quite literally built in! Then there is the possibility of 24 hour shopping. There are flats’ in New York that have no kitchens because people eat out so often.Our larger cities are getting more and more like Japanese cities every day. It is getting more interesting by the day.
on March 26, 2015
Herbert A.Davis, Jr. says…
Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in on this issue.
I’m a bit too lazy and distant to attend every protest but, I have protested and support the rights of all groups to demonstrate to call attention to wrongs they think need to be addressed but that are just being jawboned to death by traditional governmental means.
The Eric Garner and Tamir Rice killings are examples of uncontrolled police and I see no hope for improved police community relations if we don’t call attention to tragic examples of officer misconduct involving blacks or any other groups.
Having had some white privilege and been involved in the training of peace officers as well as a stint in law enforcement, I think I understand the obedience of peace officers in supporting a capitalist system that pays them well and provides them a pension of up to 95% of their high five salary. Many peace officers support the rights of all persons and see themselves as being there to protect the right to protest, for others it’s a just a job. If ordered to arrest, they will arrest and then hope the courts sort it out. Some ( a very small percentage) might be outright fascist or racist but, keep that pretty well contained in their professional lives.
I support and admire the courage of my friend Lena Gardner and I marvel at her ability to calmly take a stand against the racism that we all see and know should be addressed. One of my right wing friends says; “the poor will always be amongst us”, and I say; “people of courage will always arise when things get bad enough”…it’s beyond bad enough and time to work on solutions and not argue about how we bring attention to issues of systemic discrimination. Knowing how Fred Hampton died, I remain concerned for anyone who has the courage to stand up and seriously address the issue of race/ racism in our society.
on January 10, 2015
Michelle Carpenter says…
Thankyou for the eloquently worded and in depth explanation which explains my own view.
I am frustrated by the lack of empathy so many people seem to have for any experience that has not been their own. I am appauld by the amount of people who say “all lives matter” as an excuse to downplay the awareness black lives matter is bringing to light. And I am almost frightened by the aggression people have regarding a topic that is trying to raise awareness.
On top of the rediculous reaction by the mall of america to charge protester for the actions the mall itself took (closing stores and hiring riot police) the mall is showing that the cartoon is fully accurate, and profits over people are their main priority. Their actions have given me more reason to raise my voice as well as lost my business as a consumer.
Thankyou for taking the time to write, post and share.
on January 09, 2015
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