Last October, nine members of the Minneapolis city council supported the right to peacefully protest in a resolution, “Peaceable Calls for Reforms to the Income Tax, Financial, and Electoral Systems.” Today, City Council President Barb Johnson, from the Lowry Park area ward, proposed a resolution that basically would shut down public plazas between midnight and 6AM. It also was going to make heavy use of trespass to ban people. Since this seems more like an ordinance change rather than a resolution, Council Person Schiff made a motion to refer the resolution to the public safety and civil rights committee, which easily passed. A few council people wanted to just vote it down directly and mentioned that their vote to “refer to committee” should not in any way be perceived as support.
It looked like the resolution was basically only the intent of the City Council President Barb Johnson. So I put in a call request to Barb Johnson.
City Council President Barb Johnson graciously gave me a call back. Johnson said her basic intent was “to make sure that the plaza can be used by everyone.” She is opposed to people sleeping in public places. She wants the plaza available to the public, not just a specific group. She does not want to provide public bathrooms. She does not want to provide police protection to people sleeping in public places.
Then I questioned her more closely. The enforcement mechanism of this “resolution” was trespass. Trespass is banishment from public property BEFORE any possibility of a hearing. A person can be totally legal and within their rights, yet be perpetually banished through the use of trespass. When I asked about the trespass effect of immediately excluding people without a hearing, Johnson said she didn’t know about trespass. She didn’t know, even though she is proposing the use of trespass in her resolution and as a city council person, she makes ordinances (the city law) that control trespass. A quick call to the Minneapolis First Precinct police confirms that effects of trespass happen immediately before a hearing. The use of trespass has already been used to banish people from public spaces without even a hearing.
Then I asked about where are homeless supposed to be, if no one can sleep in public places. Johnson said the homeless can sleep in shelters, but had no answer about what to do when shelters are full. Basically, I had a strong “we/them” feeling about the conversation, particularly when Johnson would say “not dominated by a particular group”. I had the feeling that Johnson’s view, that when the public had rights, that word “public” did not include the homeless or Occupy. Apparently, in Johnson’s perspective, public spaces are only for the privileged public.
There were only 18 hours of notice on this resolution, so there was a huge call out this morning to alert people. Clerks at city hall said that there was uncertainty about the process even among city council members. Given the previous resolution of city council support, I don’t think this resolution represented anything more that the views of a small minority, possibly just one person.