The following appeared in The City Pages on May 24, 2018. The original can be found here.
By: Carin Mrotz
On Tuesday, I participated in a Poor People's Campaign action at the Whipple Federal Building.
This is the building from which van loads of immigrants being deported are transported by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the goal was to block the parking lot those vans exit from in order to slow down a few of these vans. To make it harder for ICE to deport people for at least one day.
One of my jobs at this action was to stand in a line to block traffic, telling drivers to turn around and use one of the parking lots immediately to the right and left of them, before they got to the point where other protesters had the road blocked.
That would give us time to create a second line of traffic blockers to stand thirty feet in front of the line of protesters. This was a necessary role: Before we set up that second line, at least two cars hit protesters. And once we set up the second line, the line I was standing in, folks in my line were hit as well.
I do not believe anyone was hit with enough speed or force to be seriously injured, but to be very clear, people in their cars encountered a line of unarmed, nonviolent people chanting and singing about immigrants’ rights and were triggered enough to immediately drive their vehicles into those peoples’ bodies.
The ask, again, was to park in one of the lots immediately to their left or right instead of the one we were blocking, an inconvenience similar to what you’d expect if the lot was full or being re-asphalted (this happens annually in Minnesota). And their response was violent and instantaneous. They drove their cars into people. One man yelled at us, “You break the law, you get what you asked for.”
We can disagree about protest and about blocking roads. Whether it’s useful, meaningful. This is a conversation I have all the time, and we don’t all agree. But I simply can not accept the contention that the appropriate punishment for blocking a road should be being hit by a civilian in their vehicle. And it’s part of my greatest concern about the wave of anti-protest legislation, which increases the criminal penalties for actions associated with protesting, like blocking highways. We’ve watched anti-protest laws move across the country, and saw one passed in both the Minnesota House and Senate (by Republicans as well as Democrats) before our governor promised to veto it.
Anti-protest legislation itself is redundant. When we block the road, we are breaking the law, and expect to be arrested. We accept the consequences of that. Most research says that increasing the penalties for a something that’s already a crime isn’t an effective deterrent.
So why then? When these laws are introduced and campaigns waged for their passing, what’s happening is that lawmakers are elevating into the public consciousness this narrative: protesters are criminals and they must be punished. And repeating it. And again. It has nothing to do with the law.
And this is the narrative: The people in the street are criminals and must be punished. It is not: Let’s do something to address what’s driving people into the streets. Doing that would get us out of the streets, but let’s not pretend that’s what anyone passing anti-protest legislation cares about.
They want us there, because we are a hook to hang their faux exasperation on. They raise a lot of money on their outrage. The current administration uses the same tactics to dehumanize undocumented immigrants. They are not people, they are criminals and they must be punished.
Yesterday I watched a man literally roll his SUV into the bodies of three people who were standing in the street to protest the dehumanization and deportation of undocumented people. He didn’t engage on why we were there, he didn’t care. Our presence triggered him so quickly to violence, and eventually the police came and blocked traffic themselves to keep protesters from being injured. Many people were arrested for blocking the road, none that I saw were arrested for driving their cars into our bodies. We must not all get what we ask for. Maybe we need to ask different questions.