Several arrests as protest blocks Minneapolis airport access

Killings-by-Police-Minneapolis
Law enforcement on the ground level tranport area at the Mall of America. A large protest that started at the Mall of America quickly migrated Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where demonstrators blocked roads and caused significant traffic delays. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Protesters blocked access to a terminal and caused significant holiday traffic delays at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Wednesday during a Black Lives Matter rally that also briefly shut down part of the nation’s largest mall.

Access to one of two terminals was closed after more than 100 protesters gathered inside and blocked roads leading to the airport, prompting two security checkpoints to shut down for about 45 minutes, airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said. He said the protest caused some flight delays but no cancellations.

Hoping to draw attention to a recent police shooting of a black man in Minneapolis, protesters took a light-rail train to the airport from the Mall of America, where hundreds of demonstrators initially gathered on one of the year’s busiest shopping days.

“The mall was a decoy,” said Black Lives Matter organizer Miski Noor, who protested at the airport. “I think it was really effective.”

Police said a total of 15 people were arrested at both sites, mostly for trespassing or obstruction of justice. No injuries or property damage were reported.

Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday afternoon that the moving protest created a “very, very dangerous situation.”

Dayton questioned the need for such a demonstration, noting that federal and state investigations were ongoing into the death of Jamar Clark, who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police responding to an assault complaint. The governor said releasing video of officers’ altercation with Clark, as demanded by protesters, could jeopardize the investigations.

About 500 protesters briefly gathered at the Mall of America early Wednesday afternoon before abruptly walking out while chanting, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Some protesters went to a nearby light-rail train station that allowed quick access to the airport a few miles away.

Dozens of stores temporarily closed their gates, kiosks were covered and even Santa left his sleigh shortly before protesters gathered at the massive mall. Numerous signs were posted saying no protests were allowed — including a long message on a screen in a central rotunda between two Christmas trees.

That didn’t deter Art Seratoff, a 67-year-old protester from Minneapolis.

“They talk about this demonstration as being disruptive,” Seratoff said. “If I think about an unemployment rate in the African-American community three times the white unemployment rate — that’s disruptive.”

A similar demonstration at the Mall of America last December drew hundreds of protesters angry over the absence of charges following the police killings of unarmed black men in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri. Stores in the mall had to close, and dozens of people were arrested.

The massive retail center in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington houses an amusement park and more than 500 shops spread across four floors, attracting shoppers from around the globe.

Neither mall officials nor Bloomington police said what security measures were put in place to prepare, though special event staff searched bags at every mall entrance before the rally. Security guards cordoned off parts of the central rotunda, and officers from several cities patrolled inside.

Officials said traffic at the airport was back to normal by Wednesday evening, and that about 80 stores at the mall were closed for roughly an hour as officers escorted remaining protesters off the property.

The mall had sought a court order blocking the planned protest. A judge on Tuesday barred three organizers from attending the demonstration, but said she didn’t have the power to block unidentified protesters from showing up.

Kandace Montgomery, one of three organizers barred by the judge’s order, said the group wasn’t deterred. Before the protests, she said the retail mecca was the perfect venue for the demonstration to pressure authorities involved in the investigation of Clark’s death to release video footage.

“When you disrupt their flow of capital … they actually start paying attention,” she said. “That’s the only way that they’ll hear us.”

Mike Griffin, who joined similar protests last year, said his flight to Chicago was among those delayed.

“While I’m delayed an hour and half to get back to my family for Christmas, I know there are several black families mourning the loss of innocent black men,” said Griffin, a 29-year-old from Minneapolis. “My mom is a little bit annoyed, but she’s going to see me this holiday season.”

___

Associated Press writers Jeff Baenen and Brian Bakst contributed to this report.

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