The police response to a well publicized Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America in December should serve as a jarring wake up call to people who care about the First Amendment and political rights in the United States.
A few days before Christmas, approximately 3,000 people showed up at the Mall of America with something besides shopping on their minds. The activists sat in the rotunda, chanting about police violence against Black Americans. It was a peaceful event. Only a handful of those 3,000 people were arrested that day at the site of the protest. But a nasty campaign of police intimidation and harassment against the organizers, which began before the event itself, is ramping up into full gear.
Fightback News reports:
The city of Bloomington filed charges last month against 10 people they accuse of organizing a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration at the Mall of America in December 2014. City Attorney Sandra Johnson has said she will pursue restitution for “lost revenue” and $33,000 of police overtime to make an example of “ringleaders” to deter future demonstrations.
Defendants were charged with up to eight misdemeanors with a maximum penalty of two years in prison and an $8000 fine.
One of those defendants is Nick Espinosa, who early this month learned police served Facebook with a warrant for his private communications. Apparently the cops are trying to use information from his Facebook messages to wrap him up in a conspiracy to defraud a shopping mall of "lost revenue." But Espinosa isn't scared:
I’m deeply disturbed to share that Bloomington Police have obtained a warrant to seize private information from my Facebook account as part of the ongoing political persecution and surveillance of alleged Black Lives Matter organizers who supported a peaceful gathering at the Mall of America on Dec. 20.
The Bloomington Police Department hopes to find evidence of a conspiracy to aid and abet trespassing, among other ridiculous charges. But the only conspiracy we see here is the collusion of public officials and private corporations to abuse the people they were elected to serve.
This blatant violation of my privacy and civil rights is part of an ill-conceived crusade by the City of Bloomington to intimidate and silence young activists of color at the behest of the largest shopping mall in the U.S., with our own public dollars.
According to the activists, police made repeated visits to Espinosa's and other organizers' homes before the Mall of America protest, warning them that they would be prosecuted if they didn't cancel the event.
Unfortunately, this kind of anti-dissent harassment isn't unique to smaller cities like Bloomington. The New York Police Department, for its part, is working with the FBI in a Joint Terrorism Task Force operation that includes tactics like this:
On December 14, Eric Linsker, an adjunct professor with the City University of New York, was arrested at his home by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes members of the FBI, for allegedly assaulting an officer on the Brooklyn Bridge during a march that broke away from a larger, peaceful Black Lives Matter procession the day before. Linsker, and about a half dozen activists who allegedly helped de-arrest him at the December 13 demonstration, remain the only participants in the Black Lives Matter protests so far to face charges for violent crimes in New York.
Linsker hasn't been convicted of anything, so it's too soon to say whether these charges are entirely trumped up or whether he did in fact assault a police officer. But the inclusion of the FBI's terrorism police in a raid on a political person's home sends the same message that activists in Bloomington have received from local authorities there: Dissent is a serious threat. That—not the protesters—is a serious problem.