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Star Tribune support for Republican “protest” bill a vital step forward

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The Star Tribune should be commended for their important January 19 editorial: Take prudent steps to keep protests safe.  They are basically agreeing with Republican efforts to more effectively deter protesters from shutting down highways and rail lines.  The Star Tribune’s message that this type of recent protester behavior is unacceptable is a vital step forward toward restoring order and public safety.  Here are the highlights, with emphasis added:

Legislators at the State Capitol would be wise to proceed carefully with efforts to clamp down on certain types of protest — namely, those that block highways and light rail tracks — but they should proceed.  …

This nation was birthed in protest, and civil disobedience is part of the American DNA. Any law that seeks to restrict the right to protest must strike a careful balance that preserves public safety, without trammeling on the right to speak against perceived injustice.

Even support from the American Civil Liberties Union!

But no right is absolute. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, in its Right to Protest content, notes that “The First Amendment does not protect speech that is combined with the violation of established laws such as trespassing, or disobeying a lawful order by a police officer … . If you endanger others while protesting, you can be arrested. A protest that blocks vehicular or pedestrian traffic is illegal without a permit.”

So why not just enforce the laws on the books? Republican legislators have said the penalties are too light to serve as a deterrent, and they may be right. A sensible proposal now at the Capitol would triple maximum fines to $3,000, and increase possible jail time to a maximum of one year — up from 90 days. The violation itself would go from misdemeanor to gross misdemeanor. That seems a reasonable approach to providing a more effective deterrent and spurring protesters to seek other venues.  …

[T]he need for some type of action that can prevent future highway blockages is increasingly apparent. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who is carrying the felony bill, said he is prepared to be flexible. “For me it’s about increasing awareness,” he said. “No one wants to shut off the right to protest. But we do want to keep people safe. If I need to modify the bill, I will. But we have to keep open access to freeways, trains, airports and hospitals.”

That is a reasonable expectation in a civilized society.  …

Blocking a freeway or a train track goes beyond peaceful protest. Those are inherently aggressive acts, designed to trigger a confrontation with law enforcement. They pose an immediate hazard to the protesters and motorists, as well as law enforcement.  …

[P]rotesters must recognize they do not have a right to jeopardize the safety of others.

Thank you Star Tribune!  It’s been driving me crazy this past year to constantly hear the media describe everything as a “peaceful protest,” even though activists were breaking laws, intimidating drivers, and shutting down highways.

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.

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