Please Disturb Us (and the Mall of America drop the charges against demonstration organizers this week)

Shortly before Christmas, organizers of a group protesting the treatment of black men scheduled a demonstration at the local monument to consumption: The Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. The Mall is private property and authorities said no to the request to demonstrate inside. Demonstrators said they would demonstrate there anyway to bring attention to their cause.

Authorities tried to use the threat of force and mass arrests to deter the demonstrators. Sandra Johnson, Bloomington city attorney, threatened charges of disorderly conduct, trespassing and even inciting a riot for orchestrating a peaceful demonstration meaningful to everyone. That made matters worse.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people gathered in the mall’s rotunda and sang songs and chanted slogans. Twenty-five people were arrested by police in riot gear.

After the demonstration, the Bloomington city attorney—with an advanced degree in over-reaction–continued to talk tough: “You want to get at the ringleaders,” she said threatening to use social media to identify the leaders so they could be prosecuted. I thought: “Good luck with that.” She also wants to force demonstration leaders to pay for police overtime and the business losses to Mall establishments.

Johnson comes off as a prosecutor who sees life’s choices as either/or, black/white and right/wrong with non-conforming citizens as enemies to demonize and dehumanize and force into compliance instead of seeing life as it is with shades of gray, of both/and thinking and with people as human beings to respect and involve. People who use power to mindlessly force order and conformity scare me far more than demonstrators for justice do.

Sometimes power and force are necessary. Sometimes demonstrators should be arrested and charged—but not as an automatic default response without creative thoughtfulness. In this case, a more creative win/win approach might have worked better, felt better, and built community instead of fragmenting groups. But the either/or of win/lose is always easier than the both/and of win/win.

The status quo of America—how police treat black men is part of the status quo–is not sustainable and trying to return to a romanticized past, as some want to do, is suicidal. Our nation must embrace a wiser, more evolved and inclusive vision for the future if we want a vibrant country for future generations.

A significant percentage of Americans sleepwalk through life. They mindlessly rush through the day unaware of the many serious issues that harm people. While they nap, America declines. The good people who have gone to sleep need to be aggravated and awakened—even if their shopping gets disrupted for an hour or two.

We might not think the treatment of black men by police officers is our issue. Take a moment to read Charles Blow’s painful and powerful piece in the January 12, 2015 New York Times about the shooting and death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by police officers in Cleveland, Ohio recently. The callous disregard for the humanity of this child and his sister is immoral and is everyone’s responsibility.

We need a perspective on demonstrations and demonstrators that is broader and deeper, wiser and more insightful and more appreciative of those courageous and conscious people who care enough to give of themselves to fight injustice in whatever form it takes: racism, poverty, inequality, civil rights, immigration, or climate change. An assault on human dignity, in whatever form, is an attack on each of us and all should join in and speak up against such actions—not try to silent the voices of justice.

I hope the primary election process for 2015-2016 will be a season of peaceful protests by Americans young and old that awaken our awareness. I hope we understand that justice towers in importance over the demand for rigid and blind order and conformity and the suppression of free speech. I hope that authorities will learn and experiment with new ways to manage demonstrations. I hope people who have gone to sleep will be disturbed enough to wake up and vote for candidates and issues that improve life for all of us, not just a few of us

When demonstrators disturb us and offend our views, we should examine our views.

5 thoughts on “Please Disturb Us (and the Mall of America drop the charges against demonstration organizers this week)

  1. Perhaps the city attorney should take a look at this video:

    One of my favorite quotes is:
    “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”― Cesar A. Cruz
    . . .so should demonstrations. I have no doubt this person considers herself a patriot and would have arrested the original Boston tea party participants.

  2. Great piece, Tom; your observations are spot-on. What a pity that the Mall of America, which every day welcomes people from all over the planet, chose to show its global audience that the values we tout so often in our lofty speeches — values like freedom, free speech, and the right to peaceful assembly — come with a giant asterisk. I despair that many Americans won’t wake up, though, until their own civil rights are threatened (or maybe even taken away).

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