Minneapolis Occupy protesters in court, defend the right to protest
Minneapolis, MN – The Minnesota Occupy movement won a victory in their battle against the Minneapolis city attorney’s office, July 30. Four protesters got their charges reduced to only petty misdemeanors for an October 2011 civil disobedience action at U.S. Bank. This came about despite the Minneapolis city attorney office’s efforts to escalate the charges to crack down on the use of civil disobedience in the fight against home foreclosures.
On October 20, 2011, hundreds of people participated in a demonstration in front of U.S. Bank in downtown Minneapolis to draw attention to the fact that over 25,000 Minnesotans lost their homes to foreclosure in 2010 alone. Seven people were arrested in the intersection in front of the bank and charged with “interfering with pedestrian and vehicular traffic.” Four of them were scheduled to go to trial for that charge on July 30, but on July 20 the prosecutor added the charges of unlawful assembly, public nuisance and not complying with a ‘peace officer.’
In the July 30 hearing, Judge Daniel Moreno sided with the defense’s motion against adding the new charges. He encouraged the prosecution to charge the protesters with petty misdemeanors instead of misdemeanors and, when they would not, he encouraged the accused to do a straight plea to him directly so that he could give them a lesser punishment. All four protesters pled out to petty misdemeanors, despite the prosecution’s courtroom antics to prosecute them to their fullest extent in an effort to crush the local anti-foreclosure movement.
Nationally, the Occupy movement is facing increasing police brutality, police infiltration and trumped up charges. Locally, the Minneapolis city attorney’s office has decided to try to shut down the growing movement of people standing in solidarity with families struggling to save their homes from foreclosure, by giving protesters outrageous charges. For example, the city prosecutors have escalated charges on the 14 protesters who defended the Cruz family home on May 30. Prosecutors at the City Attorney’s office originally charged these supporters with trespassing, but now they are facing riot in the third degree, which is a gross misdemeanor and carries a sentence of up to one year in prison and a $3000 fine.
In the week leading up to the July 30 court date, many progressive groups, including the Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout, the Anti-War Committee and the Minnesota Committee to Stop FBI Repression, issued action alerts to their supporters asking them to call Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Assistant City Attorney Mary Ellen Heng and City Attorney Susan Segal as a part of a pressure campaign to defend the right to protest and the Occupy movement. There will be continued pressure on the mayor and the city attorney’s office as the Cruz defendants’ cases head to trial.