Council sets new protest policies

by Seth Woehrle

The Minneapolis City Council set new guidelines last week on police conduct during large demonstrations.
The mandate passed with a 12-0 vote and was signed by Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, making it official police policy.
The City Council’s action was, for the most part, a reaction to alleged police misconduct during the International Society of Animal Genetics conference in downtown Minneapolis last July.
Jim Niland, who sponsored the measure, said the council has a responsibility to protect the rights of protesters.
“A number of people thought it was incumbent on the council to speak out and say, ‘No, we are not going to overreact to protests, we’re going to respect people’s right to demonstrate and the First Amendment in this city,'” he said. “That’s what really propelled us forward.”
The 17 items in the policy range from having police arrange consultations between lawyers and arrested protesters to a ban on the use of plastic bullets.
Some of these rules already existed in other Minneapolis city policies and laws, but others were directly inspired by the ISAG protests.
One item directly related to police actions during the July protests is a mandate that bail release forms be constitutionally valid. This was a contentious issue during the ISAG protests.
“People were forced to sign bail release forms that said they wouldn’t contact elected officials or trade unions as a condition of release and that’s blatantly unconstitutional,” Niland said.
Paul Jorgenson, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore, was arrested for unlawful assembly during the ISAG protests.
“I think that the policy is a really good idea. (At the ISAG conference), the police violated almost all of the provisions listed,” Jorgenson said.
Jordan Kushner, a lawyer representing protesters in criminal cases, said that the policy is a step in the right direction but more is needed to enforce the policies.
“I think some changes are needed so that there are consequences for disobeying (the policies),” Kushner said.
University Police Chief George Aylward said the city’s policy will not be binding for campus police.
He added his department does not have a written policy on police conduct during protests but said officers are encouraged to use their discretion while still respecting the rights of protesters.
“People need the opportunity to get their point across,” Aylward said.

Seth Woehrle welcomes comments at [email protected]