Did you don a mask resembling Al Gore or George Dubya? That’s fine for Halloween. Just be sure not to wear it or a mask of any kind to a political rally in Detroit — or you may be arrested. At least that is what happened to 13 political activists who wore Lone Ranger masks downtown during the Organization of American States (OAS) demonstration last summer.
According to Michael J. Steinberg, American Civil Liberties Union legal director, Detroit police arrested the group and attempted to keep them in jail until the weekend demonstration — which primarily took place in Windsor — ended. But that was before the ACLU stepped in, got them out of jail and took on the case.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office charged them with a misdemeanor for violating an antiquated state law which makes it illegal for anyone to wear a mask during a public assembly or march, he says. But there are exceptions to the statute which include Halloween, parades and pretty much any event — as long as it is not political. Steinberg says the state law violates the Constitution, which protects political expression.
“It turns the First Amendment on its head by making masks appropriate for entertainment but not for political reasons,” he says.
Attorney Ken Mogill argued the case on behalf of the ACLU before 36th District Court Judge Paula Humphries last week and asked that the charges be dropped. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, which did not get back to the Metro Times before this story went to press, is filing a written argument. Humphries will make a ruling after both parties have had time to respond to the written and oral arguments.
If the charges aren’t dropped, News Hits suggests that we head downtown and hold a political demonstration — and don’t forget your Lone Ranger masks.Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]