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Governor calls Black Lives Matter protests a 'very dangerous situation'

Posted at 1:45 PM, Dec 23, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Protesters blocked roads and caused significant holiday traffic delays around the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Wednesday after staging a rally that briefly shut down part of the nation's largest mall.

Police said several people were arrested at the airport, where officials said access to one of two terminals was blocked, causing backups on nearby roads. Some protesters took a light-rail train to the airport from the Mall of America, where protesters started the Black Lives Matter rally to bring attention to a recent police shooting of a black man in Minneapolis.

Gov. Mark Dayton said the moving protest was creating a "very, very dangerous situation," and he urged protesters to stop blocking access to part of the airport.

The governor questioned the need for such a demonstration, noting that federal and state investigations are ongoing into the death of Jamal Clark, who was shot by Minneapolis police responding to an assault complaint. Dayton said releasing video of officers' altercation with Clark could jeopardize the investigations.

About 500 protesters initially gathered at the Mall of America early Wednesday afternoon, then abruptly walked out while chanting, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" Protesters peacefully went to a nearby light-rail train station that allowed quick access to the airport a few miles away.

Dozens of stores closed their gates, kiosks were covered and even Santa left his sleigh shortly before protesters gathered at the massive shopping district on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Numerous signs were posted on mall property, saying no protests were allowed — including a long message on a screen in a central rotunda between two Christmas trees.

Police quickly closed the mall's main entrances and threatened arrests.

A similar demonstration last December drew hundreds of demonstrators angry over the absence of charges following the police killings of unarmed black men in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri. Stores in the mall had to close, and dozens of people were arrested.

The massive retail center in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington houses an amusement park and more than 500 shops spread across four floors, attracting shoppers from around the globe.

Neither mall officials nor Bloomington police said what security measures they put in place to prepare for the protest, though special event staff members were searching bags and stationed at every mall entrance. Security guards cordoned off parts of the central rotunda, and officers from several cities patrolled inside.

The mall sought a court order blocking the planned protest. A judge on Tuesday barred three organizers from attending the demonstration, but said she didn't have the power to block unidentified protesters associated with Black Lives Matter — or the movement as a whole — from showing up.

Bloomington Police Deputy Chief Denis Otterness confirmed officers would be at the mall, but declined to discuss their plans for handling the protest.

"Our number one priority is the safety of everybody out at the Mall of America today," he said Wednesday morning.

Dayton also told reporters early Wednesday that 30 Minnesota State Patrol officers would be on scene at the local police department's request. He said he sympathized with protesters' concerns, but stressed that the mall was private property.

Kandace Montgomery, one of three organizers barred by the judge's order, said the group wasn't deterred by the ban. She declined to say if she or her fellow organizers still planned to go to the mall, but she said she expected hundreds of protesters to show up — including some prepared to be arrested.

Montgomery said the retail mecca was the perfect venue for their demonstration to pressure authorities involved in the investigation of Clark's death to release video footage.

"When you disrupt their flow of capital ... they actually start paying attention," she said. "That's the only way that they'll hear us."