Hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists gathered at America's biggest mall on one of the busiest shopping days of the year Wednesday, to draw attention to the fatal police shooting of unarmed black man Jamar Clark.
Protesters descended on Minneapolis's Mall of America chanted "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" and held signs that read "Police the police" and "Black Lives Matter," despite a judge's warning that the property's owners could legally block the action.
"Restraining order or not, on the day before Christmas Eve, protesters will assemble at the Mall of America; there will be cameras; and millions will be watching," the group said in a Facebook post late Tuesday. "What happens next will tell us volumes about who we are as a society."
Black Lives Matter demonstrators camped outside a Minneapolis police station for nearly three weeks after a police officer shot Jamar Clark, 24, on November 15. The death of Clark, who was unarmed, is the latest flashpoint in a controversial debate in the United States over excessive force and discriminatory policing.
Eight days after Clark's death, four masked men opened fire on BLM demonstrators at a vigil being held outside a police station in the 4th Precinct on the north side of the city. After clashing with members of the crowd, the men allegedly attacked a group of protesters and shots were fired. None of the five demonstrators who were wounded, each of whom were black, received life-threatening injuries.
In December, Police charged the person who allegedly fired the shots, 23-year-old Allen Lawrence Scarsella, with five counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of second-degree rioting with a dangerous weapon.
The other men who accompanied Scarsella — Joseph Martin Backman, 27, Nathan Wayne Gustavsson, 21, and Daniel Thomas Macey, 26 — were each charged with second-degree riot while armed and are being held on $250,000 bail. Scarsella, Gustavsson, and Backman are white, police said, while Macey is Asian.
Questions have been raised about whether Clark was handcuffed when he was shot, which police have denied. Police said the incident began when they were called to North Minneapolis around 12:45am on November 15 following a report of a domestic assault. When they arrived, they saw a man who was later identified as Clark interfering with paramedics who were helping the victim. Officers tried to calm him, but there was a struggle and an officer fired at least once, according to police, hitting Clark in the head. Clark died the next day. The two officers who were involved are on paid leave.
It is the second year in a row that BLM activists, comprised of a loose coalition of civil rights groups and individuals, have planned a protest at the mall near the peak of the holiday season.
Last year just before Christmas, more than 1,500 Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrating against grand jury decisions not to charge police officers in the killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri and New York shut down part of the Mall of America.
The protests, days after rioting and arson in Ferguson, resulted in the arrests of about two dozen people, mostly for trespassing and failure to disperse.
The night before this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, members of the group marched through Macy's Herald Square flagship store to show solidarity with the Minneapolis chapter.
Officials with the Mall of America, located in a suburb of Minneapolis, have said they can ban demonstrations on private property, under the law. This week they asked a judge to bar the group, its leaders and others from protesting, and require it to delete social media posts advertising the demonstration.
However, Hennepin County Judge Karen Janisch denied a broad temporary restraining order, only barring three leaders of the group from the protest. She warned that the order, which did not extend to the group itself or unnamed people, "should not be interpreted as authorizing or permitting others to engage in political demonstration at the Mall of America without the express permission of the Mall of America."