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Bloomington Hears From the Protesters It's Threatening to Charge

Supporters of Black Lives Matter meet for a debriefing session following the hour-long public comment period

Supporters of Black Lives Matter meet for a debriefing session following the hour-long public comment period

Organizers of the December 20 protest at Mall of America and their supporters lined up at Bloomington's City Council meeting Monday to ask City Attorney Sandra Johnson not to file charges for illegally demonstrating at the mall.

They gave speeches -- sermons really, many who spoke were members of the clergy -- for more than an hour that were at times funny, sad, and packed with incredulity.

See also: Mall of America Shut Down by Black Lives Matter Protest

Before the public comment period began, the Bloomington City Council set the stage by honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a proclamation recognizing MLK Day coming up on January 19.

It specifically asked Bloomington residents to "remember and reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change espoused by Martin Luther King Jr."

That irony was not lost on Lena Gardner with Black Lives Matter.

"Earlier tonight this body honored Martin Luther King Jr. and the words racial equality and nonviolent direct action were specifically spoken to honor that tradition. This body has an opportunity right now, this is a historic moment: You can choose the side of justice, you can choose the side of Black Lives Matter, or you can choose order, and you can choose to re-enmesh a system that is killing people and destroying lives," she said.

City Attorney Sandra Johnson didn't choose to see it that way. She sounded like she will continue to pursue charges, just as she has done in the past with other unauthorized demonstrations at Mall of America.

"When there is probable cause to charge people with a crime, when that file comes up to our office, we issue the charges," she said in an address to the chamber after the first speaker.

"It is not the prosecutor's discretion at this point to listen to political pressure so that it sways their decision or their evaluation of the evidence. As I explained to Congressman Ellison this morning in a very unpleasant conversation with him, that is a dangerous, slippery slope."

After a brief moment of outrage when Mayor Gene Winstead tried to limit the public comment period to a half hour, per the rules, City Council Member Andrew Carlson made a motion to allow everyone in line to speak.

Once everyone had said their piece, shaming Bloomington and asking Johnson to #chargemetoo, Black Lives Matter supporters held a short debriefing session outside of council chambers.

At the end of it everyone held hands in a giant circle and repeated after protest organizer Michael McDowell, who chanted, three times in order:

It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love each other and support each other.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.

When asked, after the hearing, if he thought he was still going to be charged, McDowell was unsure but optimistic.

"They [the other organizers] think she's not going to, but I think she might, in like six months after the heat dies down," he said.

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