Activists protest grand jury hearing

by V. Paul

Below the imposing facade of the federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, a torn, inverted American flag flapped in the noontime breeze, reading, “We will not be intimidated by this grand jury.”
Dark, black lines stretched out from the building’s base toward 25 members of the Minneapolis Free Speech Coalition, half of whom stood on concrete pedestals and offered silent testimony Monday in protest against the grand jury hearing.
The coalition also protested the treatment recent University graduate Kevin Kjonaas received from investigators of the vandalism allegedly committed by the Animal Liberation Front during April in laboratories at the University.
“I’m here today, showing support for Kevin and because I’m angry his constitutional rights have been violated,” said Emily Ulmer, a College of Liberal Arts junior and Kjonaas’ roommate who was present when federal investigators searched their apartment.
Kjonaas appeared Monday at 1 p.m. before a grand jury convened in the courthouse to investigate the lab incidents.
Two protesters sat in folding chairs, their arms and legs tied and their mouths covered by an inverted American flag. Their confinement carried the message that student opinion was bound and gagged by America, said Philip Knight, a protester from Minneapolis.
“We hope to accomplish the fact that we made the public aware that the FBI and the local police are harassing individuals who speak the minds and use their freedom of speech,” said Joolie Geldner, a spokeswoman for the group. “We will not tolerate that in the Twin Cities and we will not give that up without a fight.”
Members of the free speech coalition said the grand jury has ignored Fifth Amendment rights, specifically an individual’s right to abstain from self-incriminating testimony, Geldner said.
Grand juries, however, are constitutionally mandated by the amendment to determine if a crime had been committed and if someone can be accused of having committed it; they do not determine guilt.
“They are an abusive practice,” said Amber Schmidt, a College of Liberal Arts senior. “Grand juries have been used to instill fear in political movements — to repress citizens who want to make a difference.”