Members of the Twin Cities Industrial Workers of the World reported being detained by police on a Hiawatha Light Rail Train at the Mall of America after peacefully gathering Sunday to support re-instated co-worker who works at the mall.
The workers met at 1 p.m. at the 27th Ave. and Lake St. stop to celebrate with Erik Forman, a barista at a Mall of America Starbucks who successfully contested his termination, which he said was an illegal move to suppress his union activity. While there were many Minneapolis and Metro Transit Police present at the gathering, Forman and fellow IWW member Jake Bell said the group’s police liaison was able to make clear to police the peaceful nature of the gathering.
Following the rally, many boarded the train with Forman as he returned to work.
“I invited anybody who wanted to come to come with me to the Mall of America, to see the first union Starbucks in Minnesota and the first union shop in the mall, to buy a cup of coffee and to take a look around,” Forman said.
When the train reached the Bloomington Central Station, Bell said, Bloomington police gathered at the station pulled the liaison off the train.
“The police told him that we could go into the mall as long as we didn’t have signs,” Bell said. “And he made clear that no, we weren’t going to picket. The cop said that was cool, and we kept going.”
When the train reached the Mall of America stop, however, Bell and Forman say there was a line of Plymouth police in riot gear waiting for them. Bell said the police were accompanied by mall management.
“They said anyone who stepped out would be arrested,” Bell said. “They detained all of the people who were on the train, even who weren’t involved in the rally.”
After twenty minutes, the train continued its journey with all the mall-bound passengers still on board. When Forman and others who needed to report to work, and people who weren’t involved tried to negotiate, Forman said they were told they could walk to the Mall from the 28th Avenue station.
When contacted, a representative of the Plymouth Police said officers were working in conjunction with Bloomington Police. A representative of the Bloomington Police Department deferred to the Joint Information Center, which is managing law enforcement information across and between jurisdictions in the metropolitan area during the Republican National Convention
Sergeant Palmer of the Joint Information Center offered a different account. After participants in the IWW gathering got on the train, he said, law enforcement contacted mall management.
“The mall said, ‘we do not want these people here at the mall,’” said Palmer. “The train stopped before the Mall of America [at 28th Ave.] and these people were told, ‘this train is not going to the Mall of America, you can continue on foot.”
When asked about reports that the train did indeed continue to the mall, where passengers were then detained, Palmer replied, “I don’t know about that, because I wasn’t there, but that wasn’t what I was told.”
Mall of America spokesperson Dan Jasper said the group was asked to leave because it was in fact demonstrating.
“The Mall of America is private property,” Jasper said. “The group was treated fairly, equally and with dignity, and asked to leave the premises. We just don’t allow demonstrations.”
Asked about collaboration with law enforcement, Jasper said the mall “works in partnership with all local organizations.”
Forman said the group made clear that it planned no demonstration, and that this response from mall management and law enforcement was deeply troubling.
“We were very surprised,” Forman said. “We weren’t doing anything illegal. We weren’t there to protest. We were there to go to the mall, and in fact to do shopping like any other tourist. So it had to be political, and I’m fairly sure it’s illegal to ban someone from your property because of their political beliefs.”