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Out here in Brett Favre-land, a small group of us are demanding accountability for torture. Virtually every weekday since Nov. 12, 2009, we have conducted a daily one-hour vigil in front of the U.S.

Courthouse, otherwise known as the Federal Building, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, has his offices in that building. Regrettably, Mr. Jones has forgotten we are a nation of laws. Usually the vigil is only a single person, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and a black hood, with a sign and sometimes with leaflets.

Our efforts have had to confront the "what-First-Amendment?" response of court security personnel. I was the guinea pig on the first day of the vigil. After about ten minutes sitting there with my sign that said "I Am Waiting" on one side and "For Justice" on the other, three guards approached me from different angles and asked me to remove my hood. They frisked me, asked for an i.d., refused to let me go retrieve a cap that I had a half block away (it was cold and windy that day), checked me for federal warrants, and told me I couldn’t wear the hood. I told them about the First Amendment and that people had been wearing such hoods in demonstrations all across the country, even in front of the White House. The fellow in charge told me there was a Minnesota law prohibiting it, and that even if a lawyer argued the Minnesota law didn’t apply, I couldn’t wear the hood because it was alarming to people. I asked if my sign and orange jumpsuit alarmed people, would I have to stop using them as well? He said he would talk to those people instead. I suggested that if there were any place that the First Amendment should apply, surely it would apply in front of the Federal Building. Nope.

So we didn’t wear our hoods at the vigil. Until Human Rights Day on December 10th, that is, when we expanded our vigil to a full-blown demonstration, and about a dozen people wore the black hoods.

We were told by court security that they couldn’t guarantee what the Minneapolis police might do in terms of arrests. (City Hall is directly across the street.) As part of our demonstration, we did try to enter the building to go to the U.S. Attorney’s office to confess complicity in the torture that was committed in our names. That wasn’t allowed. But we had made some headway. The First Amendment was being reborn on this plaza in front of the Federal Building.

Since that day, we have consistently worn the hoods. One vigiler was told he couldn’t do so but that of course there were exceptions due to cold. He said he was cold. Two others were asked for i.d.’s. One was told he couldn’t lie down in a fetal position. When asked if that was illegal, the guard said, "It might be." And then last Friday, three vigilers encountered the Chief of Police of Minneapolis, who was exiting the Federal Building after a swearing-in ceremony of his former Deputy Chief as a new Federal Marshal. They discussed a totally unrelated local case with him, all the time wearing their hoods. Apparently, the Minneapolis Police Department sees nothing wrong with wearing hoods as part of a political protest in front of the Federal Building.

We are not quite ready to re-name this area in front of the Federal Building "First Amendment Plaza," but it seems as if some people in power have re-read portions of the Constitution. Now if we could only get them to read the Convention Against Torture and the Federal Torture Statute.

Our group would encourage others to begin such vigils at their local Federal Buildings. It only takes an hour a day. We usually go during the lunch hour, but tell volunteers that any part of the workday would be fine. If you get 20 people willing to do it once a month, you’d have all the workdays covered. If you get five people willing to do it once a week, you’re there. With Obama and Holder and a heads-in-the-sands Congress, we are going to have to demand accountability. If we can do this throughout the winter in Minneapolis, surely others can as well. Please join us.

Originally posted to youmayberight on Mon Jan 18, 2010 at 03:15 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  thank you for this n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chuckvw, Chacounne

    Dream, that's the thing to do (Johnny Mercer)

    by plankbob on Mon Jan 18, 2010 at 03:20:01 PM PST

  •  Thank you for standing up (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chuckvw, cailloux

    and doing the right thing.

    Thak you for standing up for justice and accountability.

    You and your colleagues might be interested in the March for Legal Accountability for Torture, which will be in DC on September 4th, the Saturday of Labour Day weekend. I hope to see you there.

          With gratitude,
       Standing with you for justice and accountability,
                For Dan,

    Planning a March for Legal Accountability for Torture in Washington, DC, September 4th, 2010, the Saturday of Labour Day Weekend.

    by Chacounne on Mon Jan 18, 2010 at 03:44:10 PM PST

  •  Good work! (eom) (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If I stop believing in gravity, will creationists float away?

    by Idgie Threadgoode on Mon Jan 18, 2010 at 03:48:29 PM PST

  •  Now that you have met the First Amendment, (0+ / 0-)

    when will those responsible for torture meet the Convention Against Torture and the Federal Torture Statute?!! Keep up your good work!

  •  Vigil at Federal Courthouse (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The daily vigil at the Federal Courthouse also serves to remind everyone of Obama's promise to close Guantanamo.  Here's an excerpt from the latest "Harpers Magazine" article by Scot Horton:

    "When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to "restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great." Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo "shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order." Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006."

  •  AMERICAN KNIGHTS OF THE KKK v Kerik (0+ / 0-)

    The 2nd Circuit upheld a New York City ordinance barring demonstrating in public while masked.

    On appeal, defendants argue that (1) the masks worn by the American Knights do not possess sufficient communicative elements to implicate the First Amendment; (2) even if mask wearing constituted expressive conduct, the anti-mask statute is constitutionally valid as either a permissible restriction on symbolic expression or as a reasonable time, place or manner restriction; (3) the First Amendment does not extend to protect masked expression in a public forum; (4) even if the First Amendment did so extend, the statute is narrowly tailored to serve an overriding state interest, and is therefore constitutionally valid; and (5) the American Knights was not the victim of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination or selective enforcement.

    t is well established that "[t]he First Amendment affords protection to symbolic or expressive conduct as well as to actual speech." Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, 123 S.Ct. 1536, 1547, 155 L.Ed.2d 535 (2003). As the Supreme Court has cautioned, however, "[w]e cannot accept the view that an apparently limitless variety of conduct can be labeled `speech' whenever the person engaging in the conduct intends thereby to express an idea." O'Brien, 391 U.S. at 376, 88 S.Ct. 1673; see also Zalewska v. County of Sullivan, 316 F.3d 314, 319 (2d Cir.2003) (quoting from the preceding passage in O'Brien). In determining whether particular conduct is sufficiently expressive to implicate the First Amendment, therefore, the test is whether "`[a]n intent to convey a particularized message was present, and [whether] the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it.'" Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 404, 109 S.Ct. 2533, 105 L.Ed.2d 342 (1989) (quoting Spence v. Washington, 418 U.S. 405, 410-11, 94 S.Ct. 2727, 41 L.Ed.2d 842 (1974)). The party asserting that its conduct is expressive bears the burden of demonstrating that the First Amendment applies, Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U.S. 288, 293 n. 5, 104 S.Ct. 3065, 82 L.Ed.2d 221 (1984), and that party must advance more than a mere "plausible contention" that its conduct is expressive. Id.

    Now comes the part where your vigil can be distinguished....

    The mask that the members of the American Knights seek to wear in public demonstrations does not convey a message independently of the robe and hood. That is, since the robe and hood alone clearly serve to identify the American Knights with the Klan, we conclude that the mask does not communicate any message that the robe and the hood do not.7 The expressive force of the mask is, therefore, redundant.

    Not only is the message conveyed by the mask duplicative of the robe and hood, we think the mask adds no expressive force to the message portrayed by the rest of the outfit. The mask's asserted message is already being conveyed unequivocally: Inasmuch as the robe and hood draw an association between the American Knights and the Klan that is clear and unmistakable to any viewer, the addition of the mask cannot make that association any clearer.8 A witness to a rally where demonstrators were wearing the robes and hoods of the traditional Klan would not somehow be more likely to understand that association if the demonstrators were also wearing masks. The American Knights offers no evidence or argument to the contrary.

    I am not currently Licensed to Practice in this State.

    by ben masel on Mon Jan 18, 2010 at 05:30:16 PM PST

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