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Minnesota Law Enforcement Can't Make Up Rules As They Go Along

Jana Kooren,
ACLU of Minnesota
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November 4, 2011

Late afternoon on Wednesday we were sitting around the ACLU of Minnesota’s office talking about the ACLU Open Letter to Mayors. We thought it would be a good idea to send the letter of thanks because, unlike in some other places, Hennepin County and the Mayor of Minneapolis had not been cracking down on the OccupyMN protestors, who have been staying at the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza in Minneapolis.

Then we found out yesterday that Hennepin County had released a memo with new restrictions on protestors including:

  • Barring protestors from sleeping overnight on the plaza with the first prediction of snowfall or temperatures below 25 degrees
  • Consolidation of their possessions
  • Prohibition of unattended items on the plaza
  • Placement and affixation of signs

Clearly, we decided not to send a thank you letter, but instead decided to send a letter asking the county to rescind the new rules, which we believe are unconstitutional. These new restrictions are problematic for a number of reasons – not only were they created just for OccupyMN, but they are also not based on any existing laws or ordinances.

OccupyMN has agreed to have the ACLU represent the group in this matter, so the next steps will be to sit down with Hennepin County to see if we can come to an agreement. If we can’t, then we are prepared to file a lawsuit.

Today we learned that Hennepin County proceeded with their restrictions, including taking down all signs that were displayed at the plaza. As I write, there is a confrontation going on between the police and protestors regarding the removal of the signs – so far there are no arrests, we will see how this plays out.

I have visited the OccupyMN protests half a dozen times as an observer, so while I am not there regularly, it is clear to me that this is prime example of peaceful expression of freedom speech. What is most disheartening is that I have also heard a lot of public sentiment that these people should just get a job and shut up and stop wasting taxpayer dollars. It is unfortunate how many people echo this sentiment here in Minnesota, and think the First Amendment should be used sparingly, as if having a job and protesting are mutually exclusive. I disagree, and that’s the beauty of the First Amendment: it stands behind everyone’s right to free speech, not just speech we agree with.

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