In their short time together, the Hug Brigade (previously profiled here) has gathered to hug strangers on the Nicollet Mall, in Uptown, outside the Vikings-Packers game, and outside polling places on Election Day -- all without incident. Until last week, that is, when a small contingent of Huggers took to the Mall Of America to ease the pain of Black Friday warriors in need of a widdle snuggle.
According to Hugger Tabatha Robbins, the Brigade -- who this time out brandished "Free Hug" t-shirts but not signs -- hugged shoppers for two hours. Finally they were stopped by a security guard who said, "Sorry, but you guys can't do that anymore."
Robbins asked what they were doing wrong, and the guard told the three member-strong Brigade that soliciting is illegal at the Mall Of America.
Robbins says she "giggled" at the idea of free hugs being an act of solicitation, but didn't push it because they were hugged-out and ready to call it a day anyway. The group met up with a fellow Hug Brigade faction to wait for another hugger to get off work at Bubba Gump's, where the security guard confronted them again and... um, here's Robbins:
"He yelled at us again," she says. "I looked at him this time and said, 'What are we doing wrong? We are standing here waiting for a friend to get off of work.' He said, 'You have been warned once. If I catch you doing it again I will have to ask you to leave.'
"I asked him what he was talking about. He said, 'You are still giving people hugs.' I told him, 'No we are not.' He said, 'That person just came up and asked for a hug.' I was like, 'Yeah. Am I gonna deny someone a hug when they come up to me and ask?'"
Hell, no! But the Huggers cut their losses, told their worker friend they'd see her later, and left the Mall. "I found it so upsetting that people can't see the good in what we are trying to do," Robbins wrote in an email a couple hours after getting the hug heave-ho. "Doesn't 'soliciting' mean that you are asking for money or along those lines.... what part of FREE HUG do people not understand... lol."
"They were walking up to people randomly and hugging them," said Mall Of America spokesperson Julie Hansen. "It was intimidating to our visitors. They were told to cease hugging, and they didn't. People are here to shop and they don't know what [the huggers'] agenda is. They don't know if they're going to get mugged, or pick-pocketed, or what. It's not appropriate."
This weekend, the Hug Brigade moves on to more welcoming indoor confines: senior citizens homes and assisted living facilities.