Yesterday, December 23rd, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis joined five other BLM chapters across the country in coordinated actions to put a halt to one of the busiest shopping and travel days of the year. They called it #BlackXmas.
According to a [Black Lives Matter press release], “Black Xmas is here and there will be no business as usual until we get accountability for our dead, and justice for the living. Instead of buying gifts to fuel this system, Black Xmas is a day of action to reject the degradation of Black families and communities by police, politicians, and predatory companies, and declare our inherent worth. We will disrupt business as usual until city, state, and federal budgets stop funding Black death and start funding Black futures.”
The Minneapolis action began at the Mall of America, where all but the BLM inner circle expected it would stay.
At 1:30pm, the demonstration’s scheduled start time, ushers began leading protesters out of the rotunda to the exits, directing them to get on the Light Rail back towards Minneapolis. We weren’t told where to get off the train, only that we would know when we got there.
Some people took it as an adventure, eagerly guessing among themselves where the train could be headed. Others wondered out loud whether mall security disguised as organizers had tricked them into dispersing. One white guy standing next to me complained that leaving the mall defeated the point of having a protest on such a big shopping day. I was annoyed at how quickly he assumed Black Lives Matter was acting incompetently rather than strategically.
The packed train stopped at 28th Ave, then Bloomington Central, then American Blvd. Before each stop I felt a collective rush of anticipation, then the doors would open to mostly empty platforms and we’d be on our way again. “We’re probably going downtown,” someone speculated.
We were not, in fact, going downtown.
The organizers’ ultimate goal was to move protesters from the Mall of America to the roads leading to the airport, where they would join 20 other demonstrators to block traffic. Although I was on one of the first trains leaving the mall, the cops had already arrived to keep us from exiting the Light Rail stairwell.
What do a bunch of protesters do when a line of irritated cops trap them in a stairwell? [They sing, obviously!]
ain’t no party like a stuck-in-a-stairwell party cause a stuck-in-a-stairwell party don’t stop
The only place we could go was back down to the Light Rail station because all other exits were blocked, so down we went.
Between 30-50 riot cops followed us down the escalator and stood between the protesters and the airport entrances. They informed us that anyone who did not board the next train out of the airport would be arrested.
When I was taking pictures while waiting for the train, one of the cops (not pictured) tried bonding with me. “Hey!” he said, smiling. “Sony A7, that’s a nice camera.” It was a baffling moment considering I was pointing my “nice camera” directly in his colleague’s face. A black person taking pictures so confrontationally would definitely have elicited a much different reaction.
After almost everyone had boarded the train and only media people and a few (calm, nonviolent) protesters remained on the platform, the cops pulled out clubs the size of yardsticks and stood at the ready. “Oh my god!” I heard people on the train gasp. “What are they doing?”
I saw the police arrest a few people before the train left, including Black Lives Matter organizer Nicque Mabrey (not pictured).
The Light Rail dropped us off one stop short of the Mall of America. I and many others decided to walk back to the mall to see if the protest had moved back to its starting point.
At least thirty cop cars and other emergency vehicles drove past us as we walked back to the Mall.
Tons of mall security guards met us outside the east entrance and told us we would be arrested if we didn’t leave mall property immediately. I put on my best Minnesota accent and asked one of the guards, “What if we aren’t part of these black matters demonstrations? I just want to get my Christmas shopping done JEEZ.”
They didn’t buy it. I think my combat boots and the bandanna tied around my neck might have tipped them off.
When I finally put down my camera and checked my phone, I saw that the protests had successfully shut down part of the mall and the Light Rail, and caused major delays for both airport terminals.
Many well-intentioned people who believe they support racial justice are frustrated with that outcome. Some of you find it unfair that your life and the lives of others were temporarily put on hold in the name of this cause that you might otherwise support.
But if a few hours of nonviolent protest that delayed flights and temporarily closed stores is enough to make you care less about racial justice, you never cared that much to begin with. And if you think the protest was a disproportionate response to what black people in this country are facing, you don’t really understand what black people in this country are facing. You don’t know the daily terror of realizing your son or daughter could be shot dead while handcuffed, or playing with a toy gun, or walking down the street, with absolutely no recourse. You can’t possibly. If you did, you’d find anguished mothers and sons and wives justified in burning this whole city to the ground if that’s what they thought would get their message across.
If you’re frustrated about this protest, I only ask that you set aside your judgment and try to learn why many find this cause urgent enough to force people to stop what they’re doing and listen.