Although the right to film police is protected by the First Amendment, the well-known advocate laments: “They’ve got the guns, and badges, and they want total control of the situation they’re in.”
MINNEAPOLIS — Perhaps few people are more aware of their constitutional rights than Jordan Kushner, a lawyer renowned for defending the civil rights of everyone from Black Lives Matter activists to people dressed like zombies. Now he’s facing trial for exercising his own fundamental First Amendment rights.
In November, Kushner attended a lecture at the University of Minnesota presented by Moshe Halbertal, an Israeli-born scholar who drafted the Israeli military’s code of ethics on the topic of “asymmetric warfare.” However, as Halbertal began to speak, several pro-Palestinian activists located throughout the audience disrupted the event.
As police sprung into action and dragged the protesters from the audience, Kushner pulled out his phone and began to film, knowing that the Supreme Court had repeatedly upheld the right of Americans to record cops. In a Jan. 20 report for Citypages.com, Michael Rietmulder described what happened next:
“Then a building manager came for Kushner, telling him he couldn’t record the speech. The veteran attorney said he wasn’t recording the speech — the speech was hardly going on, at that point, due to the numerous interruptions — but was documenting the actions of police. He knew his rights. No matter: Kushner was escorted out and ‘thrown over a little brick wall’ by police, he recalls, a moment that was captured on building surveillance video.”
Kushner was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice, and trespassing.
“All of the cases I have reviewed made it clear, that there’s a constitutional right under the First Amendment,” Kushner told Rietmulder. “But, they’ve got the guns, and badges, and they want total control of the situation they’re in. They won’t allow questioning by anyone.”
It’s Kushner’s fourth arrest while filming police action, he told Citypages.com, but all previous charges were dropped when the lawyer asserted his First Amendment rights. But this time is different, and Kushner believes he’s being targeted because of his reputation as a defender of free speech. Rietmulder reported:
“Curiously, police have put in a lot of effort on Kushner’s relatively minor case, filing multiple supporting evidence reports in the days and weeks that followed his arrest.
‘There’s been a huge amount of investigation,’ Kushner said. ‘It’s two months later, and they’re still interviewing witnesses. They’re treating it like it’s a murder trial.'”
He’s earned the ire of police and prosecutors through several high-profile cases, including some which have represented major defeats for the city of Minneapolis. In one notable 2010 case, Kushner forced the city to pay out $165,000 to settle a lawsuit on behalf of seven clients who were arrested in 2006 for dressing like zombies.
More recently, he defended Black Lives Matter protesters against the Mall of America, which sought to block activists from disrupting business during their second annual holiday shopping season protest. “[T]he kind of case the Mall of America brought, where they were trying to abuse their power and money in a way that so violate people’s First Amendment rights, is real unusual,” he told Democracy Now! on Dec. 23.
Now Kushner will find out how well his years of experience can serve in his own defense, Rietmulder wrote:
“Cops and prosecutors know Kushner’s reputation as a defender of civil liberties and free speech — even, or especially, free speech that makes authority a little uneasy. He’s represented hundreds of protesters in court. Now it’s his turn.“