MN House Passes Bill to Crackdown on Freeway Protesters
A Star Tribune article revealed the Minnesota House gave a green light to a public safety finance bill that would “increase legal penalties for protesters who block freeways.”
The right to peaceably assemble is protected under the First Amendment and can be exercised many places: the Capitol, on sidewalks, in parks. But the freeway is not one of them.
Blocking transit is already illegal in Minnesota, but the bill would make it a gross misdemeanor to block highways or light rail lines, punishable by up to a year in jail.
The point of the bill is to increase the punishment for engaging in an activity that is already illegal. It does not stifle free speech. It is not an attempt to disenfranchise some Minnesotans. It is a safety measure to protect the rights of all Minnesotans when existing laws aren’t enforced and get broken.
Public safety for all should be a priority no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. In January, Governor Dayton was “concerned about protests that blocked highways and couldn’t support them” because they put “public safety at serious risk.” But last night liberal legislators believed talk of public safety was a disguise to “upend political speech.”
“The message you are sending to the people of Minnesota is that it is more important for you to be free than it is for others,” said [Rep. Jamie] Becker-Finn, referencing protests led by Martin Luther King Jr. “That is privilege, and that is injustice.”
With all due respect, Rep. Becker-Finn, the message you are sending is upholding a person’s right to protest is more important than also upholding the rights of everyone else.
That idea is what needs to be shut down, not freeways.