WASHINGTON (AFP) – Hundreds of demonstrators filed into America’s largest shopping mall Saturday as part of an ongoing wave of protests against racially charged police violence, interrupting one of the holidays’ busiest shopping days.
Protesters gathered at the Mall of America, in Bloomington in the Midwestern state of Minnesota, and held up signs with slogans such as “Black Lives Matter”, which has become a rallying cry for nationwide demonstrations against police.
Photos posted on Twitter showed dozens of demonstrators – including several shopkeepers – placing their hands in the air. The gesture is a tribute to Michael Brown, a black teen killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Some witnesses claim Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot on August 9. His death and the subsequent grand jury decision not to charge the officer involved touched off weeks of nationwide protests over what demonstrators say is the police’s disproportionate use of deadly force against African Americans.
According to the Mall of America protest’s Facebook page, more than 3,000 people said they would attend the demonstration. Photos posted on social media showed throngs of people gathered across several levels of the sprawling shopping centre, with more outside.
Police and mall security were quick to respond, but there were no immediate reports of arrests, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper.
Several protesters tweeted an image of a mall information screen warning people they faced arrest.
“This demonstration is in clear violation of mall of America policy,” the warning read. “Those who continue to demonstrate are subject to arrest.”
Most protesters appeared to have dispersed by mid-afternoon.
The grand jury decision last month not to indict police officer Darren Wilson over Brown’s death was followed by a similar grand jury verdict that declined to charge another white policeman in the “chokehold” death in Staten Island of Eric Garner, a black father of six.
These and other deaths, including that of 12-year-old Tamir Rice – shot dead by Cleveland police as he brandished a toy gun – have unleashed simmering resentment of police tactics in the United States and highlighted uneasy relations between black men and law enforcement officials.
The Mall of America sees some 40 million visitors annually and is an important tourist draw for Minnesota, according to the mall’s website.
It would take a shopper 86 hours to visit all the shops in the mall if they spent 10 minutes in each shop.