Protests should be protected, not punished

Last night, the Minnesota House voted to increase penalties for protesters on freeways, airports and transit areas. The Legislature is trying to silence dissent. They do not want to allow people to stand up against what’s wrong.

You may say that I’m over-reacting. That, of course, we all still have the right to speak out. We can protest, just not on freeways or at airports or by transit areas. But Minnesotans have already been arrested for protesting on streets and sidewalks.

Sixty-nine Minnesotans were arrested for protesting outside the Governor’s Mansion last July. They weren’t on a freeway. They weren’t at an airport. They weren’t at a transit area. They were on the sidewalk by Summit Avenue. They were standing up for justice for Philando Castile, who was killed by a police officer at a traffic stop.

The Public Safety Omnibus Bill, which the House passed last night, is an effort to scare people from protesting against injustice. It won’t stop some protesters, like me, from speaking out. But the threat of a year in jail for protesting sends a chilling message.

Republican Rep. Nick Zerwas of Elk River told a House Public Safety Committee that his bills weren’t aimed at Women’s March protesters in Saint Paul, or the DAPL protesters who blocked the Lake Street Bridge. So, ah, just who is the target of his bills? The anti-protest bills target Black Lives Matter, which organized last summer’s Interstate 94 protests after the police killing of Philando Castile. Hmm. Women’s Marchers, who were predominately white, are OK. Black Lives Matter protesters and Muslim travel ban protesters deserve stiffer penalties.

As Democrat Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn of Roseville noted, the anti-protester bill will end up targeting all of us. “It isn’t just Black Lives Matter,” she said. “It is miners, farmers, people who want to make a living wage. It could be about anything.”

People, all of us, need the right to speak out about what’s wrong. We need the right to protest. By increasing penalties against protest — with the punishment of a year in jail — the Legislature is trying to silence us.

Squelching protests hurts everyone. After all, protest is an American tradition — from the Boston Tea Party to women’s suffragettes to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s and today, protests stand up for and protect American values. Protests make our state and country stronger.

Please ask Governor Dayton to veto the anti-protest bill. Governor’s office 651–201–3400 or