Before adjourning on July 25, the City Council approved a resolution that activists claim strips protestors of their civil rights protections; council members maintain the resolution simply clarifies existing police policies. The resolution, passed by the full council on June 20, was returned to committee and amended several times. Labeled 2008R-248, the resolution replaces a 2000 council agreement passed in the wake of protests and arrests at the International Society of Animal Genetics Conference.
The 2000 agreement, criticized by council members as vague and poorly written, specified that “medical attention must be given immediately to those who require it” and prohibited infiltration of groups, targeting of organizers, confiscation of cameras and other recording equipment, and compiling of political dossiers. It also forbids the use of plastic bullets or other projectiles; barred the use of pepper spray, tear gas, and similar substances “except in situations justifying the use of force”; and kept police from harassing non-protestors (such as journalists or legal observers).
Council discussions have suggested that the upcoming Republican National Convention protests provided the occasion to revisit the 2000 decision; however, the 2008 resolution is not restricted to the RNC events. Instead, it specifies police policies regarding the dispersal of “public assemblies” in Minneapolis in a more general way, leading activists to claim the policies will apply to future civil rights gatherings or Critical Mass rides.
Shortly before Friday’s council meeting began, about 15 protestors gathered on the steps of City Hall to express their opposition to the resolution. The group, a coalition of RNC activists and groups such as Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), expressed concerns about protections in the 2000 agreement that were lost in the more recent resolution. Citing the elimination of prohibitions against police using rubber bullets, confiscating cameras, infiltrating activist groups, and withholding medical attention, speakers attempted to provide what they called a “public hearing” of the resolution.
One member of the group, Jude Ortiz, interrupted a ceremony in the council a short while later when he stepped to the podium and read a “statement of reprobation” to Mayor Rybak. Ortiz was removed by police and asked not to return that day. A version of Ortiz’s statement was distributed later to each council office by group members.
While the 2008 resolution was amended on Friday to include some of the protections of the 2000 decision, the later resolution opens with a preamble absent from the 2000 document. This introduction expresses the council’s “confidence in the planning, training and command structure in place for responding to and handling public assemblies by the Minneapolis Police Department…”
Although protestors have expressed alarm at this language, Council Member Paul Ostrow (Ward 1) said on Friday that such language was insufficient in recognizing the “good work” of the police department. Ostrow proposed additional language that “commends the Department for ongoing efforts to protect First Amendment freedoms during demonstrations,” which was approved unanimously.
Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) introduced four amendments to the resolution. One prohibited police from using pepper spray, tear gas, and other chemical substances “except in situations where use of such force is reasonable.” Another responded to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) concerns that the confiscation of recording devices must be “subject to First and Fourth Amendment constitutional protections.” A third provision clarified that the Minneapolis Police Department will not use plastic or rubber bullets. All three provisions passed.
But Gordon’s final provision generated the most discussion. This provision barred police from compiling political dossiers and targeting “law-abiding persons not engaged in demonstrating,” including journalists and legal observers. Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) moved to eliminate the language about dossiers, stating that federal agents’ abilities to collect them rendered this provision moot. The council unanimously approved the deletion.
Council Member Ostrow expressed his discomfort with the term “journalist” and moved to strike the term, explaining that “we’re in an era where everyone is a journalist, everyone has a blog.” Council Member Gary Schiff (Ward 9) rejected the argument, asserting that “The rights of journalists are paramount to our democracy.” Council Member Scott Benson (Ward 11) reminded the council that the adjective “law-abiding” specified that lawless journalists might still be subject to police actions. Ostrow’s motion was defeated 11-1.
With the aforementioned amendments and provisions, Resolution 2008R-248 was passed unanimously by the Minneapolis City Council.
Liz McLemore welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.