The Minnesota legislature has spent the last five years preparing for the kind of protests that have rocked the city over the past week in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd — by attempting to criminalize them.
From 2016 through 2019, state lawmakers introduced ten bills that either made obstructing traffic on highways a misdemeanor or increased penalties for protesting near oil and gas facilities. Most of these legislative proposals were introduced in response to ongoing protests against a controversial oil pipeline as well as those following the police killing of Philando Castile in a St. Paul suburb in 2016. The bills would have allowed protesters to be jailed for up to a year, fined offenders up to $3,000 each, and allowed cities to sue protesters for the cost of police response. Many of the bills were introduced in 2017 after racial justice activists in the state made headlines shutting down a major highway. A couple others were in response to protests in 2016 and 2019 against the energy company Enbridge’s planned replacement of a pipeline running from Alberta to Wisconsin.