Minneapolis Victory for First Amendment Rights

CourtroomBY BRUCE NESTOR, FROM HIS WEBSITE

Yesterday, [Dec. 16, 2014] former federal prosecutor and Hennepin County Judge Nicole Engisch found Rachel Bengston-Lang “NOT GUILTY” following a bench trial for violating a Minneapolis ordinance on blocking passage. On May 1, 2014, Bengston-Lang acted to protect immigration rights demonstrators when they were threatened by an aggressive driver who appeared to want to drive through an intersection blocked by pedestrian protestors. Following the demonstration, Bengston-Lang reported to police that the driver had struck her with his vehicle. Instead of charging the driver, MPD issued a citation to Bengston-Lang for blocking traffic in violation of Ordinance 385.65. Judge Engisch found under the facts of this case that the act of blocking traffic was “inextricably bound up” in the exercise of First Amendment rights and that police could not issue a citation without warning when police had passively observed the blocking of traffic for a substantial period of time. Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal refused to dismiss this charge, even after thousands of people have recently demonstrated in the streets without arrest and Minneapolis city officials publicly stated that demonstrations involving First Amendment activity do not require permits, even if traffic may be obstructed. An absurd charge and prosecution, but a just result. Bengston-Lang was represented pro bono by Bruce Nestor. Dozens of supporters from CUAPB, Copwatch, and Asemblea de Derechos Civiles, were present to hear and cheer the verdict.
[Editor’s Note:  Attorney Rachel Lang is perhaps best known for dumping glitter on Michelle Bachmann after her speech at the RightOnline Conference in Minneapolis.]

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