MINNEAPOLIS — A large protest that started at the Mall of America quickly migrated Wednesday to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where demonstrators blocked roads and caused significant traffic delays.
Airport officials said access to one of two terminals was blocked, which also caused backups on nearby roads. Some protesters took a light-rail train to the airport after the nation's largest mall was closed by police.
Hundreds of protesters with Black Lives Matter abruptly walked out of the suburban Minneapolis mall shortly after a rally began Wednesday afternoon, chanting, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" Organizers were trying to draw attention to Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man who died last month after being shot by Minneapolis police responding to an assault complaint.
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 urged onlookers out, threatening arrest, and protesters moved toward a light-rail train station that allowed quick access to the airport a few miles away.
A similar demonstration at the mall 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.
Dozens of stores had closed their gates shortly before the protest started.
The mall sought a court order blocking the planned protest. A judge on Tuesday barred three organizers from attending the demonstration, but said she doesn'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.
"We're just not releasing that at this point," he said. "Our number one priority is the safety of everybody out at the Mall of America today."
Gov. Mark Dayton also told reporters early Wednesday that 30 Minnesota State Patrol officers will be on scene at the local police department's request. He said he sympathizes with protesters' concerns, but he stressed that the mall is private property.
Kandace Montgomery, one of three organizers barred by the judge's order, said the group isn'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 expects at least 700 people to show up — including some who are prepared to be arrested.
On one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Montgomery said the retail mecca is 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."