Protest policies under review at MN Capitol

State Patrol Captain Eric Roeske and Chris Guevin of the Dept. of Administration present on overview of current policies for rallies and protests at the Minnesota Capitol. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Minnesota lawmakers and other government officials are raising concerns about the growing intensity of protests at the state Capitol, including two recent events that led to arrests.

Members of an advisory panel on Capitol security met Monday to review current permitting policies for large rallies and protests. They also discussed whether any changes are needed.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said he thinks protests during this year’s legislative session were louder and more emotional than he’s seen in the past. Limmer said he worries about a novice protester who might get swept up in that emotion.

“The protest is very close and it’s becoming very personal,” Limmer said. “If it continues, I think we’re just asking for it. Someone is going to be hurt by that lone individual who’s attracted to the organized event that’s going to do something on their own initiative.”

Limmer suggested the creation of a designated protest area outside of the Capitol building.

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said he understands the apprehension of Limmer and others. But Nash said he wouldn’t want to restrict access or limit speech.

“This is ground zero for protesting, and all sorts of issues,” Nash said. “I don’t want to be the one that gets in the way of that.”

Seven people were arrested last month at the Capitol when participants in a march against Shariah law clashed with counter protesters. In March, a skirmish between supporters of President Trump and counter protesters also resulted in arrests. Lawmakers were not in the building for either of those weekend events.

Much of the concern among committee members was the result of an end-of-session protest over steps lawmakers took to prohibit unauthorized immigrants from getting drivers’ licenses. Those protesters staged a multi-day sit-in inside the governor’s office.

Sven Lindquist, the Minnesota Senate sergeant at arms, said he’s concerned about similar unpermitted events that are driven by social media.

“So, far so good, but we’re on the verge, we’re on the edge with some of these things,” Lindquist said.

Committee members offered no additional suggestions for policy changes.

State Patrol Captain Eric Roeske said part of the problem is that every protest situation is different.

“We do a very good job of making sure the last thing doesn’t repeat,” Roeske said. “But they always take a different path and we have to react in the midst of that situation.”

  • Matt Stevens

    protest all you want but when the building/ park closes it’s time to go, come back the next day if you want but don’t expect the hours or acceptable use for an area or building to change

  • AmbreQ

    MN Representative Moran spoke on the House floor when protester legislation was being debated in April. This is just an excerpt. Something to think about. Is it really about public safety? What about addressing the reasons these “emotional” protesters are out in the streets to begin with?

    “What I came to learn and understand as my ancestors did, was that laws are not always fair and just…. I wanted to be a legislator because I wanted to be a part of creating laws that are fair, and just and about all of us. Because they’re not always that way. This bill here, I don’t care how we sugarcoat it and dress it up. It is about BLM on the highway. It’s about people raising their voices up about injustice that they felt, that they still feel. It is about the injustice that a community of people feel.

    That is what it is about. It’s unfortunate, as back then when MLK was marching, that he made people uncomfortable. He broke some laws.. probably got on some people’s nerves. I’m sure that there were many people who said “it’s not right and you’re breaking the law, how dare you?” That happened then because laws and policies that are created are not always fair and equal for all of us. Even today. We’re not all treated the same. And maybe this isn’t the case in your rural communities. I’ve been told there isn’t a lot of diversity. You all look and act the same.

    But as a child of a slave, I’m here to tell you, injustices are real. We feel them. My son’s feel them. As I looked at this march on the bridge, that’s a powerful visual, and I wonder: how many people were trying to get to the hospital. How many people trying to get to a friend’s home. How many people inconvenienced by those bringing this darkness and ugliness to light? I didn’t march on the highway or go to the airport, and I know there were some who were inconvenienced. But MLK said, unless you inconvenience someone else, they don’t see you. They don’t hear you. And the laws continue to be what they ARE…

    We talk about public safety… Not one county attorney or police officer came to testify that it was what they want… nobody steps on the highway to commit suicide, they have cars to slow down traffic.. .and people have faith in the police. They did stop the traffic. They do what they are called to do… It’s hard for me to believe that this is about public safety. You had a fireworks bill that went to that committee, and people, police officers opposed it saying it was about public safety, and you ignored it. But you want me to believe that it’s about public safety, when not one police officer came to testify. I have here… and I know this is a Republican bill, maybe an ALEC bill, moving across the country, because we know there are 18 states around the country moving anti-protester legislation, this same type of bill. Is it about public safety?

    I want to read this paragraph from Rep Dean:
    “So we had no alternative, except preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the local and national community.”

    He literally meant that, because they were beat.

    …Experience with injustice…The trauma, toxic stress that comes from that. The little boy or girl who has to go to school and pretend nothing has happened to her father, uncle, brother. As if nothing has happened.

    Thank you for bringing this amendment forward. I met with Zerwas when they first dropped these bills because I wanted to understand them. We could talk hypotheticals, what types of people would be on the highway… I understand people are inconvenienced. BUT THAT HAPPENS EVERY SINGLE DAY in the life of someone who looks like me. If it’s not me it’s someone in my family, a neighbor, a child. We are inconvenienced…

    The stories are sad, I have lots of sad stories to share with you about people who have been inconvenienced. Had to start over. Or they did everything right and it did not matter. And often enough something as simple as the color of our skin. So that’s where we are here in the 21st century.

    And this bill is a 21st century bill that is targeting a specific group of people… calling it public safety.”