April 03, 2003

Grow: Protesters and the Free

Grow: Protesters and the Free Ride - Last week, we talked about Governor Pawlenty's proposal to charge court costs and arrest-related expenses to protesters who break the law in the name of civil disobedience.

In the Twin Cities, we've raised a generation of protesters who've grown used to being able to conduct their "civil disobedience" - complete with scores of "vanity arrests" for trespassing and other offenses - completely at city/county cost.

Doug Grow wrote about this last week.

There are only a couple of problems, beyond those pesky civil-rights issues, that I can see with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desire to place a "restitution" charge on people arrested for civil disobedience.
Mr. Grow - leave aside the simple fact that one does one not have a "civil right" to break the law. Doesn't the whole notion of a whiffle-ball justice system undermine the whole idea of "civil disobedience"? If the "protesters" approach an act of civil disobedience knowing that there will be absolutely no meaningful consequences, is it really disobedience at all?

Back to Grow:

1. He's not planning to charge enough per bust.

2. Many of the people I know who get arrested don't have that kind of money. Though many protesters work and raise families, many are students and many others frequently don't have the all-American gumption to get the sort of jobs needed to move to places such as Eagan.

Forget for a moment the snarky little class-warfare sneer (which is completely misguided; most "anti-war" protesters I've met are either perfectly well-to-do Highland Park matrons who drive to the "protests" in Volvo 740s, or college kids with no real bills or responsibilities.

To say "they can't afford it" infantilizes both the protesters and the notion of civil disobedience.

And it's irrelevant; the law is the law. Someone arrested for trespassing outside the context of a (politically correct) demonstration can not expect the kid-gloved tokenized treatment that "anti-war" protesters, rich or poor, can expect.

Either, for that matter, can a demonstrator for a less PC cause. Pro-life protesters rarely if ever get quite as sympathetic or consequence-free forum from the legal system.

Before examining its possible shortcomings, here's a quick review of the governor's outside-the-box -- and likely outside-the-Constitution -- proposal:

Pawlenty, apparently agitated that police arrested about 90 antiwar demonstrators last week in the Twin Cities area, said the protesters should pay for the costs of their arrests. He believes $200 would be a nice, round number to work with.

"We're not saying people don't have a right to free speech," Pawlenty said Friday on his weekly radio program. "We're just saying people don't have a right to free arrest."

And this is unconstitutional precisely how?
Very glib, but civil libertarians, of course, already are voicing objections to the governor's plan. (What don't they object to?)

"A surcharge on free speech," is what Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, calls the Pawlenty plan.

So many ways to respond to this.

Breaking the law may be speech, but it's not specifically protected by the Constitution; nothing in the Constitution says that either protected or disobedient speech need be cost-free. I enjoy freedom of the press - but I have to pay for the bandwidth and server space. If I intended to break the law to make my "speech"'s point, why would I not expect to pay for it?

My concerns are less academic than Hottinger's.

For starters, $200 often isn't going to be nearly enough to cover the cost of an arrest.

The state record for cost-per-protest-bust, for instance, came on Dec. 28, 1998, when more than 600 law enforcement officers -- police, sheriff's deputies and highway patrol officers -- moved as a mighty army against a bunch of Hwy. 55 protesters in south Minneapolis.

In the end, 36 scrawny tree-huggers were arrested at a cost of $332,488 in overtime billing alone. In addition, law enforcement officers consumed $7,309.90 worth of box lunches, doughnuts, muffins and coffee. Under a pay-for-your-own arrest plan, each tree-hugger would have had to write a check for more than $9,000.

Grow fails to mention that this was a rather extraordinary operation; not in the least bit like the usual protest. Grow uses it to emotionally manipulate the argument.
We saw an exercise in efficiency just this past Tuesday when 68 protesters were arrested outside the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis by a modest force of 50 Minneapolis cops. No overtime was involved in the two-hour operation, and the protesters were hauled to Metro Transit buses, which were lent to the police at no charge.

Assuming the average Minneapolis cop is paid about $25 an hour, the bust-per-protester charge should be only about $40, not counting booking and any upcoming court costs.

Note the clever rhetorical device: for the extreme case, Grow has taken the trouble to get the actual numbers. For the "typical" case that applies to the vast majority of arrests, he takes a wild guess.

Grow fails to account for the non-police-time-related costs; worse, he fails to mention or account for the costs incurred while the fifty cops involved in hauling off the 68 protesters weren't doing their real jobs, patrolling the streets of Minneapolis. The costs of longer response times to robberies and domestic assaults in South Minneapolis, while fifty cops were busy nursemaiding 68 corn-fed Highland Park matrons and college students to their meaningless court dates.

Doug? Get back to us when you've done your homework.

Now, here's the part that really gets me:

The second big flaw in the Pawlenty plan is the fact that some of these peace-and-justice people haven't invested much time in moneymaking careers.

Take career protester Marv Davidov, for example. Davidov figures he's been arrested 51 times going back to the 1960s. He'd be out $10,000 under the Pawlenty rule. Except . . .

Davidov's done a lot of things in his life but has always looked askance at having your standard American job. This means he frequently can't get his hands on $200.

So professional protester Marv Davidov's right to a symbolic arrest and meaningless charge trumps the right of the taxpayer - especially the Minneapolis taxpayer who has every right to expect that her tax money will give her relatively timely police protection, and that the police's time will not be wasted on trivialities like indulging Mr. Davidov's self-righteousness?
That Davidov never has aspired to a steady paying job surely agitates Republicans such as Pawlenty. Why, it even frustrated Marv's own mother, Gerty, who died at age 100 a little more than a year ago.

As we discussed the Pawlenty pay-per-arrest plan on Friday, Marv recalled a phone conversation he once had with Gerty:

Gerty: "What did you do this weekend, Marv?"

Marv: "I went to hear the Minnesota Orchestra. It was wonderful."

Gerty: "You love the orchestra. Why don't you get a job with them?"

Marv: "I can't get a job with the orchestra. You never taught me to play a [very strong expletive] instrument."

Gerty: "Don't use a word like that when you're talking to me."

Marv: "What word? 'Job?' "


I'd suspect that Mr. Grow considers it admirable, that someone can reach late middle-age and never have held a job, having devoted his/her entire existence to...what? "Activism?"

Tell you what, Marv (and Doug): Spend your energy learning a [very strong expletive] instrument, and quit talking to your [very strong expletive] mother like that.

And pay for your own [very strong expletive] symbolic arrests. Assuage your self-righteous ego on your own [very strong expletive] dime.

Sometimes, our governor doesn't seem to see the complexities.
Normally that's not such a good thing.

In this case? Stomp on the "complexities", Governor. Charge them for every [very strong expletive] dime they cost the rest of us.

By the way - I know I have some readers in the Strib newsroom. I'd welcome Mr. Grow's response to this.

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