MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers are moving to pass tougher penalties for protesters who block public areas.

The controversial bill targets demonstrators who block freeways, airports and light rail transit trains.

State lawmakers across the country are considering get-tough laws like this after a couple of years of serious protests, including here in Minnesota, where hundreds of protesters shut down freeways after a series of shootings of black men by police.

“If you block a freeway, you should go to jail,” said Rep Nick Zerwas, (R) Elk River, who is one of the authors of the legislation.

The Republican sponsored bills are upping the stakes for protesters, making an action that’s already illegal– more illegal.

“If you believe you have a first amendment right to block a freeway? You are mistaken,” said Zerwas. “That is against the law. Already.”

The bills raise the penalty for blocking traffic from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. That’s a more serious crime, punishable by a fine up to $3,000 and up to a year in jail.

At two emotional State Capitol hearings, critics of the get-tough plan called it an attack on free speech. A friend of Philando Castille, a black man whose shooting death by police sparked weeks of protest, called the bill racist.

“If you want us to stop protesting, stop giving us a reason to protest Please!” John Thompson of St. Paul said. “Because until then, you can charge me with a felony! I’ll be in the streets, protesting!”

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said last week he supports the goals of protest groups like Black Lives Matter, but says he does not support shutting down freeways, airports or light rails lines. He has not yet said whether he’ll sign the bill.

Pat Kessler

Comments (6)
  1. Tim Neumann says:

    Good, book them, fine them and maybe it will sink in, you are not allowed to inconvenience the traveling public with your BS.

  2. Once again people would ignore the constitution and punish people who have a real issue with domestic enemies; mainly the police, corporations, Republicans and other “privileged” people. This under the guise of public safety is bullshot.

    1. Jeff Mannino says:

      . If you illegally form a protest in a restricted area.. like the FREEWAY…you deserve to be punished.. With the last years of Obama’s(community organizer) instigating the public to have these “get in your face protests”. The blocking of freeways tactic has been used too many times. Began with ferguson a false narrative and lie of “hands up don’t shoot”. These illegal protestors are infringing the rights of others by holding them captive. for example by blocking a freeway. Dude this isn’t rocket science.

  3. “Because until then, you can charge me with a felony! I’ll be in the streets, protesting!” see it’s that kind of short sightedness that messes people’s chances in life. felonies prevent you from getting jobs, apartments, etc. and then you whine about how unfair it is and commit crimes to survive. just follow the law.

  4. The law isn’t telling anyone you can’t protest, its just telling people, you can’t protest on freeways, you can’t block trains, traffic or airports. People just don’t realize, its not just protesting and raising awareness, there are people who have emergencies that need to get places and you are preventing this from happening. It SHOULD be illegal. I hope Gov. Dayton follows through with signing this bill. You can support people and allow them to protest, but please sign the bill in order to prevent them from doing it illegally.

  5. Just read a Comment on Facebook that said the Comments left here were from… “Racist, ignorant, a**holes… and that we were all Doomed.” So I read your Comments… and am thinking I must be reading the Wrong comments section. **Nothing about race, and mostly how protesting on freeways and lightrails is an unfair inconvenience to innocent civilians. Soooo….. Wha?