By David Webb
To several of us constituents who have written to him urging he reject HF 322, Minnesota’s anti-protest bill, Representative Davids has only proferred excuses as to why he chooses instead to toe the party line. They deserve public rebuttal.
1. While acknowledging the first amendment of the Bill of Rights – “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak …” and “The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the Legislature … for redress of their grievances.” – he suggests that the key word is “peaceably.” I could not agree more. However, he goes on to contend that blocking an interstate highway is not peaceable.
Granted, the founding fathers did not specifically address interstates, and the issue is arguably open to interpretation. A reasonable person would perceive that throwing Molotovs at vehicles on a highway would be both unlawful and unpeaceable. A reasonable person should also recognize that merely marching down a thoroughfare or sitting down in a roadway or on a sidewalk to pray, while it might be unlawful, is eminently peaceable. Conversely, a militarized police force in full riot gear, attacking nonviolent protestors with billy clubs, shooting them with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, blasting them with water cannons in freezing weather, while possibly lawful, is clearly not peaceable. So, no, Mr. Davids, you cannot conflate “lawful” and “peaceful”, or would you have us believe that such notorious lawbreakers as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were unpeaceable?
2. “Law enforcement needs this additional legislation.” Wrong. Minnesota Statute 169.305 CONTROLLED-ACCESS RULES AND PENALTIES already provides “(c) The commissioner of transportation may by order, and any public authority may by ordinance, with respect to any controlled-access highway under their jurisdictions prohibit or regulate the use of any such highway by pedestrians, bicycles, or other nonmotorized traffic, or by motorized bicycles, or by any class or kind of traffic which is found to be incompatible with the normal and safe flow of traffic.” and “Subd. 3. Petty misdemeanor. Any person violating the provisions of this section or any order or ordinance promulgated or enacted by the commissioner of transportation or a public authority pursuant thereto is guilty of a petty misdemeanor.” Police already have the authority and need only enforce existing law to maintain normal and safe flow of traffic, and protestors who interfere with same are already liable to misdemeanor charges.
3. “Protestors should have to pay for the full cost of policing protests.” Wrong, again. As put forth in the fifth and fourteenth amendments, and subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court, “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” We collectively all pay for law enforcement, and the men and women of law enforcement are sworn to protect and to serve us all – protestors and protested alike. They are not empowered merely to insulate the privileged from the disadvantaged.
Moreover, equal protection under the law also requires legal consequences to be commensurate with, not grossly disproportionate to, trespasses. If for example, you were involved in a motor vehicular accident that shut down an interstate highway, and if it were your fault, say you fell asleep at the wheel, you and/or your insurer would certainly be liable for any injuries or damages caused. You would not be liable for the salaries of the policemen and emergency personnel who responded to the accident. Nor would you expect to receive a draconian fine or be sentenced to a prison term.
A protest which did not in some way shame, embarrass, inconvenience, or even come to the attention of the protested would not be much of a protest, would it? No matter how partisan Republicans might try to spin it, HF 322 is nothing more than a blatant attempt to squelch dissent and to penalize and to marginalize fellow citizens who hold views contrary to theirs. Obviously, we cannot count on Representative Davids to speak for us on this issue. If the Republicans do succeed in ramming the bill through the legislature, I would only hope that we could persuade Governor Dayton to veto it.