The saga of 13 people arrested by Detroit’s finest for allegedly wearing Lone Ranger-style masks while protesting this summer’s meeting of the Organization of American States came to an end last week. Following a hearing on the issue, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office decided to drop charges “in the interest of justice.”
The protestors were charged with violating a 1931 state law that makes it a misdemeanor for people to conceal part of their faces in public during an assembly, march or parade. According to the ACLU, “the law makes exceptions for people wearing masks at minstrel shows or during Halloween and historical gatherings, but it contains no exception for political speech.”
“The protestors were charged with a law that turns the First Amendment on its head by giving political speech less protection than entertainment,” said Kenneth Mogill, who worked on the case as a cooperating attorney for both the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the National Lawyers Guild.
Mogill expressed pleasure that the prosecutor’s office finally figured out that the law is “completely unconstitutional,” but expressed dismay that the protesters were ever arrested in the first place.
At the urging of Mayor Dennis Archer, the Detroit City Council passed an emergency ordinance similar to the state law immediately before the OAS meeting. The protesters, however, were charged only under the state law.
The obvious question now is whether the law will remain on the books.
According to Michael Steinberg, legal director for the Michigan ACLU, discussions are under way to determine whether the group will pursue a suit seeking to have the statute struck down.
Our bet: Steinberg and his trusty sidekicks end up putting a silver bullet right through the heart of one very lame law, leaving grateful townfolk to stare off at a distant cloud of dust as they utter the words, “Who were those masked men?”Curt Guyette is the Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org