Free Speech under attack in Minneapolis
Two Fur Protesters Found Guilty of "disorderly conduct" for protesting outside fur shop in busy downtown area - Sentencing and Solidarity Rally this Wednesday, July 14th.
In a case involving the First Amendment and free speech, anti-fur trade protesters Isaac Peter and Michael Lawson were found guilty last week by a Hennepin County jury. The charges were "disorderly conduct," a misdemeanor under MN law. The incident occurred on March 4 2010 when officers arrested Isaac and Michael after alleging that they were creating an annoyance by shouting a political message on a public sidewalk in a busy and regularly noisy area of the city.
Ribnick Furs at 224 North 1st Street - and this area of the city - is no stranger to protesting. In fact, one of the potential jurors in Voir Dire, though not selected, stated that she worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, a few blocks away. She noted that they often received e-mail warnings of upcoming protests from both "animal rights" activists outside Ribnick Furs and "End the Fed" activists outside of their own building so that employees of the bank can find alternate routes to avoid the protesters. Thus, many of the local institutions and businesses are given advanced notice of the frequent, and sometimes loud protesting that occurs in this area.
Many such protests have been held before and after this incident at Ribnick Furs without arrests, though fur shop owner Bill Ribnick testified he often called the police on the protesters who are clearly on a public sidewalk with a specific political message. This appears to be another attempt to squash dissent especially when the protests are effective and raise awareness on the cruelty of the fur trade.
During the trial, besides the supporters for Isaac and Michael, various members of the city attorney's office also showed up to watch suggesting that this case was a big deal for what would usually be a minor misdemeanor. Head city attorney Susan Segal also made an appearance to watch the proceedings. While the city may have temporary "won" with the legal decision, Isaac and Michael plan to appeal it.
The number of fur dealers nationwide has declined dramatically over the last two decades, largely due to such legal protests at shops, public education, and actions to shut down fur farms. Business owners have responded by trying to portray the protesters in purely criminal terms. For example, in the Ribnick's case, the prosecution cited a non-political case involving a student shrieking at a school administrator as precedent that annoyance could be considered criminal. The judge and jury evidently didn't understand the difference - that a political message is protected by the First Amendment.
In better news for the First Amendment this week, the California case of the AETA 4 - animal rights protesters charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act - was dismissed, though the activists could be re-indicted if the state can make more specific allegations.
How you can help now:
The sentencing of Isaac and Michael is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. on the 14th Floor of the Hennepin County Government Center. Please attend if you are able to come to court during this early morning hearing to help show the judge that the community is behind Isaac and Michael.
For those who can't make it to the morning hearing, there is also a planned protest that same evening. The solidarity rally/protest will be outside of Ribnick Furs, 224 North 1st Street in downtown Minneapolis at 4:30 pm on Wednesday, July 14th. to protest both the assault on free expression and the cruelty of the fur trade. This is to send a message to the city that they can't stop the protests.
In order to appeal this decision, Isaac and Michael will need to raise funds to pay for the court costs that go along with filing an appeal. Visit the website: http://deathtrade.wordpress.com/ to contribute funds to help with the legal costs and learn more about the case.