ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A Ramsey County judge on Thursday dismissed riot against more than 40 people who were at an interstate highway protest in St. Paul following the police shooting death of Philando Castile.

And Minnesota lawmakers are proposing new legislation to get tough on freeway protesters.

About 300 demonstrators walked onto Interstate 94 last July, blocking traffic for five hours. Forty six were arrested on charges of rioting, public nuisance and unlawful assembly.

But no one was charged with obstructing traffic, which carries a light penalty.

Representative Kathy Lohmer says the growing number of freeway protests are a threat to public safety, not only to police, but drivers and protesters too.

“You need to obey the laws of the freeway,” said Lohmer, a Republican from Stillwater. “They are there for a purpose. Freeways are not really public spaces, like parks and places like that. You need a license to drive on the freeway. You can’t walk on the freeway.”

Lohmer’s bill beefs up penalties for obstructing highways, including entrance and exit ramps. Right now, it’s a misdemeanor carrying fines up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail.

The bill would make it a gross misdemeanor, carrying fines up to $3,000 and a year in jail.

Jordan Kushner is a civil rights attorney who represents the freeway demonstrators.

He calls the bill “very disturbing” and an effort to intimidate legal protesters.

“The proper place to protest is a way that gets people’s attention,” said Kushner. “These proposed laws that make it a much more serious offense to engage in non-violent peaceful protest are designed to scare people away so that they won’t engage in this sort of protest.”

Lohmer, whose son is a Minnesota State Patrol officer, says it’s fortunate no one has been seriously hurt in freeway protests, but she’s worried that could change.

“You need to obey the laws on the freeway,” she said. “They are there for a purpose.”

But Kushner says protesters have been able to raise the visibility of important issues, despite “the inconvenience of an additional traffic jam.”

“I sympathize with people who have to get someplace,” he said, “But it’s the cost of living in a society where people can express themselves politically.”

Pat Kessler

Comments (76)
  1. How about making it against the law to stop police from killing drivers. Freedom of assembly is more important than the 2 nd Amend.

  2. How can these people not understand, it’s okay to protest but not break the law?

    We don’t really need more laws, just allow law enforcement to do their job and make judges hold these criminals accountable. “A Ramsey County judge on Thursday dismissed riot against more than 40 people who were at an interstate highway protest in St. Paul” – ridiculous. We all ought to go protest at this judge’s house. Why doesn’t WCCO name him. He works for us.

    Maybe this judge and Jordan Kushner their civil rights attorney would have a different opinion if one of their family dies because police or rescue personnel were hindered by these morons.

  3. “I sympathize with people who are honest law abiding citizens” he said, “But nignog criminals come first.

  4. Dana Carl says:

    Run them over! The lawyer is an ass! They are trespassing, and NO you do NOT have the right to block me from getting to where I need to go!

  5. Patently unconstitutional, and would be vetoed.

  6. Actually it’s perfectly “okay” to break the law while protesting, as long as one is willing to accept the responsibility for the outcome. Marlin and Dana are advocates of “authoritarianism,” which is where law and power have greater rights than individuals. However we don’t live in an authoritarian country (well, not officially), we live in a democracy, where individual rights and power are supposed to be recognized.

    So, yes, people DO have a right to protest, and to “block you from getting where you need to go.” An absolute right. And they’re delaying you, slightly, from reaching your destination because a law-abiding citizen like Philando Castile was delayed from getting ANYWHERE, EVER again for no other reason than he was black.

    It’s sad that Marlin and Dana can’t grasp that, since the First Amendment is first for a reason.

    We’re a democracy. Individuals have rights. Laws can be bad and wrong, and even good and right laws have to yield when something as egregious and awful as happened to Philando Castile occurs. Maybe get some civics, US history, and civil-rights audio books to listen to in your car as you’re fuming impotently because your neighbors are once again outraged by lethal racist incidents.

  7. If “Right to Life” protesters don’t have the right to block access to an abortion clinic, how do other protesters have the right to block access to roads?

    Or, are some animals more equal than other animals?

    Orwell would be so proud.