Minneapolis Police Department Changes Its Tune In Response To MCLU's Concerns

Affiliate: ACLU of Minnesota
July 21, 2000 12:00 am

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MINNEAPOLIS,MN — In the wake of media scrutiny and criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Minneapolis, city officials have abandoned an earlier plan that would violate the First and Fourth amendment rights of pedestrians during the International Society of Animal Genetics Conference.

“We are pleased that the Minneapolis Police Department recognizes the fact that the Constitution allows the public to have unregulated access to public places,” said Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the MCLU. “”The police have assured us that they have no intention to engage in unconstitutional activity and we will be monitoring the situation to ensure that they keep their word.””

Throughout the conference’s duration, the police department planned to “screen pedestrians” in the downtown Minneapolis area. The plan, which was set out in a police notice, drew harsh criticism from the ACLU as a violation of the right to free speech and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The notice issued by the police regarding pedestrian and vehicle restrictions during the conference states that:

“NOTE: As you enter the area of the hotels, a police officer may inquire as to why you intend to enter the area. Please cooperate with the officer and state you business. You will be allowed to enter as long as your intentions are lawful. We request that you have some form of identification with you when attempting to enter the area.”

In response to the attention the notice has received, the Minneapolis Police Department issued a news release in which it denied having plans to “screen pedestrians” in the downtown Minneapolis area during the ISAG Convention. The department also pledged that “[no] citizen would be stopped, questioned or searched without the necessary levels of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity as required by State law and the Constitution.”

“The U.S. Constitution allows police to stop and detain people only when they have reasonable suspicion that they have engaged in unlawful conduct,” said ACLU Legal Counsel Teresa Nelson. “Fortunately, the Minneapolis Police Department recognized the error of their previous plan and has recognized the constitutional rights of individuals who wish to be in the area during the conference.”

Nelson explained that a suspicionless stop of an individual to inquire as to whether they have a “lawful purpose” to be in the area is exactly the type of police behavior that was recently ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Chicago v. Morales.

The ACLU plans to closely monitor activities surrounding the conference and is prepared to take legal action in the event that police interfere with lawful free speech activities.

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