Art by Julianna Sanroman
The next state in our series is Minnesota, where State Representative Kathy Lohmer has introduced a bill that would increase penalties on protesters who obstruct freeways, entrance ramps and exit ramps. Following a freeway protest last July over the death of Philando Castile, Lohmer is seeking to disincentivize protesters from protesting on freeways, citing public safety as her motive. Forty-six people were arrested at that protest and the civil rights lawyer representing them, Jordan Kushner, had this to say, “I sympathize with people who have to get someplace but it’s the cost of living in a society where people can express themselves politically.” but the problem with even making this point is that it attacks the wrong issue at hand for him. There should absolutely be a debate in our nation about the rights of protesters to use obstruction as a means to draw attention to societal injustices. But Rep. Lohmer’s bill is not newly criminalizing the obstruction of freeways but rather increasing the penalties from a misdemeanor, carrying up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail, to a gross misdemeanor which carries up to a $3,000 fine and one year in jail. Some protesters might have accepted that initial charge as the cost of making, as Rep. John Lewis says, “good trouble” but the passing of this bill could see Minnesotans, particularly those with low income, having to choose between joining their voice with others in protest or complete financial ruin and the loss of future job prospects. This is dangerous not only to the free exchange of ideas but to the rights of all as the increased charges would make protest another pay to play American activity, whereby the only ones who would be represented as dissenters would be the ones who could afford its costs. (I urge you to find out who your legislators are and to contact them asking them not to support this bill if you live in the state of Minnesota. To identify your state legislators, please visit http://www.gis.leg.mn/iMaps/districts/)
This is the second in a series on state-level legislation attempting to stop the rights of Americans to protest.