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Zombies on the march in Minnesota

 

Of course! It all makes perfect sense now. The zombie vote. That explains how Al Franken was elected Minnesota’s newest U.S. senator. 

I mean, you have the dead dead voting in Chicago. Why not the living dead voting in the Land of a Thousand Lakes?

 

What tipped me off to the truth was this decision from the 8th Circuit. Yesterday, the court struck a blow for the constitutional rights of zombies everywhere.

 

That’s right, breaking new ground under the Fourth Amendment, the court said that police need probable cause to arrest, even if you are a zombie.

 

Here’s the scoop.

 

Zombies may not be the brightest bulbs around, but like the rest of us they care about the direction the country is heading.

 

In Minnesota, a group of zombies decided that protesting the “mindlessness” of today’s consumer culture was a statement that just needed to be made.

 

So they decided to stage a protest at the perfect venue to make that point: the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

 

And when you want to grab the attention of lots of people in Minneapolis, there’s no better time than during the week-long summer festival known as the Aquatennial.

 

At about 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 22, 2006, the crowd of Aquatennial revelers was joined by zombies Jessica Baribeau, Jamie Jones, Raphi Rechitsky, Jake Sternberg, Christian Utne, Kate Kibby and her younger zombie brother, Kyle Kibby.

 

The zombies wore standard issue zombie dress, accented by white powder and fake blood on their faces and dark makeup around their eyes.

 

After a zombie group hug, they proceeded down the mall, walking in their customary stiff, lurching fashion, carrying four bags of sound equipment from which they blared music from an iPod.

 

Now, you and I might perceive an inherent contradiction in buying an iPod and then using it in a protest of America’s consumer culture, but we’re talking zombies here, people, so let’s cut them some slack.

 

Using the sound equipment, the zombies also broadcast announcements such as “get your brains here” and “[b]rain cleanup in Aisle 5,” apparently in an effort to raise awareness about the plight of rampant consumerism.

 

Okay, I agree. The zombies’ protest slogans come across rather weak. But again, please keep in mind that these are zombies.

 

With zombies stumbling through the Aquatennial crowd and blaring music, it didn’t take long for the police to show up.

 

Yep, someone called 911 to complain about “people calling themselves zombies” playing loud music and “almost touching people.”

 

Officers Timothy Merkel and Roderic Weber showed up to figure out what in the Wide, Wide, World of Sports was going on.

 

The zombies explained that they were making anticonsumerist commentary, and with a warning to tone it down a bit, the officers let them go on their way.

 

Later in the evening, a concern was raised that the zombies were members of the Juggalos, a violent gang known for wearing face paint.

 

So Merkel and Weber decided to approach the zombies and ask for identification. This is when the trouble started.

 

The officers found the zombies gathered on a street corner. Weber said that there was at least one child in the surrounding crowd who appeared to be frightened by the group.

 

So when most of the zombies couldn’t produce identification, they were hauled off for disorderly conduct and spent two nights in jail.

 

Now, zombies know their rights. These particular zombies sued Minneapolis, claiming that they had been arrested without probable cause.

 

Yesterday, the 8th Circuit agreed that the city was not immune from the zombies’ §1983 suit and reversed a summary judgment in the city’s favor.

 

First, the court decided that Minnesota courts had narrowly interpreted the state’s disorderly conduct statute to protect expressive conduct.

 

Here, the 8th Circuit concluded that the zombies were engaged in conduct protected by the First Amendment.

 

“The plaintiffs intended to protest mindless consumerism when they dressed in zombie costumes, walked erratically, and broadcasted anti-consumerism statements over a makeshift, portable sound system,” the court said.

 

It followed that an unlawful arrest had occurred.

 

The court explained that “[b]ecause the plaintiffs’ conduct was expressive conduct and did not amount to fighting words, their conduct clearly did not fall within the narrowed reading of the disorderly conduct statute. Thus, there was no probable cause to believe the plaintiffs’ expressive conduct violated the statute. Accordingly, we hold that Merkel and Weber violated the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights.” (Baribeau v. Minneapolis)

 

Circuit Judge Steven Colloton dissented, arguing that decisions by the Minnesota Supreme and Appeals Courts did not support the majority’s narrow reading of the state’s disorderly conduct law.

 

Colloton contended that probable cause existed to arrest the zombies because the state’s disorderly conduct law plainly applies to persons who engage in “boisterous, or noisy conduct … tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others.”

 

The dissenting judge wrote that the “officers knew collectively that the plaintiffs played music loudly over their speakers on downtown streets while an outdoor festival was ongoing, that they were ‘coming up close to people,’ and that someone called 911 to complain that they were loud and almost touching people. These facts were sufficient to warrant a reasonable person of caution in the belief that the plaintiffs engaged in boisterous or noisy conduct that was likely – and that the plaintiffs had reasonable grounds to know was likely – to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others.”

 

This is a tough one.

 

Generally, I’m a law and order guy. Since it’s a well-known fact that zombies rise from the grave and go on flesh-eating binges, my sense is that police should have probable cause to arrest zombies on sight.

 

That goes double for when they’re in my neighborhood.

 

But I’m not some highfalutin judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, so what do I know?

 

It is true that the zombies in this case seemed pretty tame by zombie standards.

 

The record doesn’t show that they were chomping on anyone at the Aquatennial. And it just doesn’t seem right that their social activism should be held against them.

 

So in the end I come down on the side of the zombies and the First Amendment. Besides, the way things are going, Al Franken will need every vote he can get next time around. — Pat Murphy

 

 

 

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