The Empire Strikes Back
Joel Rosenberg is an odd duck.
Most Americans live lives of quiet desperation, working at jobs they're ambivalent about at best, waiting for the weekend, snatching a few hours for themselves when they can, and avoiding Trouble.
Look, I can't get involved. I've got work to do. It's not that I like the Empire; I hate it! But there's nothing I can do about it right now… And it's all such a long way from here.
Not Rosenberg. Rosenberg lives, by any reasonable standard, a life that should be the envy of any American man. He's written a series of remarkably good fantasy novels. He founded his own business, his dream job, in a field about which he's passionate (he's a firearms safety instructor). He's married to a woman more formidable than he is ("She Who Must Be Obeyed"). And, where most of us would say we don't like the Empire; We hate it! But there's nothing we can do about it right now…
Get this: the Minneapolis Police Department arrested Joel Rosenberg's wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, on bogus charges. Hennepin County prosecutors dropped all charges once SWMBO's attorney educated them (with difficulty) about the true facts. Where most Americans would lick their wounds, thank their lucky stars, and stop making Trouble at that point, Rosenberg filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records about the case with the Minneapolis Police Department.
That's Trouble in and of itself. The Empire doesn't like it when citizens ask irritating questions about Official Business, like what the Empire was thinking when it arrested a citizen for … well, for nothing.
When Rosenberg went to the MPD office to pick up his documents, on November 5, he brought a gun. Sergeant William Palmer, the department's public information officer, knew Rosenberg was coming. He'd made an appointment. He knew that Rosenberg would be carrying. Rosenberg had even, in advance, called the Hennepin County Sheriff's office for permission to carry at the MPD, as he was required to do under relevant state law, which allows the holder of a concealed carry permit to do so at a "Courthouse Complex" when permitted by the Sheriff. (Minneapolis City Hall hosts a small claims court, which bears about as much relation to what most people think of as "Court" as Judge Wapner, on an entirely separate floor) Rosenberg asked for permission and got it.
Here Rosenberg either deliberately stepped on the toes of Trouble or made a miscalculation. I think it's the former. See, to the sort of people who are proud of petty power, it is offensive for a mere citizen to invoke the rule of law to limit that power. During the Cultural Revolution, a jailed dissident quoted the Little Red Book to her jailers for the proposition that she was wrongly confined. The jailers, scandalized, replied "the Book is not for you!" In the eyes of the likes of Bill Palmer, the law gives the right people power — it is not for the likes of Joel Rosenberg.
So Joel's stance was Trouble. Yes, it may be legal, technically, to carry a weapon into the Minneapolis Police Department under Minnesota law when the carrier is a permit-holder authorized by the Sheriff, but it shows an awful lack of respect for AUTHORITAH! And Sergeant Bill Palmer may not know much about the law, but he knows all about AUTHORITAH!
Rosenberg was bum-rushed, disarmed, his ammunition confiscated, and told to take the gun to the car. Then he picked up his documents and left, without being arrested, because, you know, he hadn't technically committed a crime. In fact, if anyone broke the law on November 5, it was Bill Palmer, a servant of the Empire who can't even be bothered to read Imperial Law.
Even if he's the Minneapolis Police Department's Public Information Officer, the officer charged with explaining the law to lowly citizens like Joel Rosenberg.
Trouble begets Trouble. Rosenberg, not content that he hadn't been shot for exercising his rights as a citizen of the Empire, posted Youtube videos taunting Palmer for his lack of knowledge of the law.
And that's Trouble. The Empire has no sense of humor about itself. Folks like Bill Palmer have even less.
So yesterday, the Empire Struck Back. Rosenberg was arrested and jailed, where he remains as I write this, for the crime of carrying a weapon into a "Courthouse Complex". Even though he followed the law to the letter:
A person who commits [the following act] is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than five years or to payment of a fine of not more than $10,000, or both: …
possesses a dangerous weapon, ammunition, or explosives within any courthouse complex …
this subdivision does not apply to …
persons who carry pistols according to the terms of a [carry] permit issued under section 624.714 and who so notify the sheriff or the commissioner of public safety, as appropriate…
The Empire even threw in a charge of contempt of court, for Rosenberg's having the temerity to "DESCRIBE BEHAVIOR".
How is "DESCRIBE BEHAVIOR" illegal? Beats me. Maybe you can divine it from the Empire's laughably slapped together, cut-n-paste arrest warrant. Or perhaps this is a Freudian slip: Rosenberg did, indeed describe the bad behavior of the Empire.
Let's get serious. Joel Rosenberg isn't in jail for "DESCRIBE BEHAVIOR" or for contempt of court. He's in jail for contempt of cop. He isn't in jail for exercising his Second Amendment rights. He's in jail for exercising his First Amendment rights.
This fact is sufficiently clear that it may be of use to Joel's criminal defense attorneys, and to his civil attorneys thereafter.
First, Joel's defense attorney should look at a motion to dismiss for selective prosecution. That would require making a prima facie case that (1) similarly situated people aren't prosecuted by the Minneapolis authorities, and (2) the authorities have an impermissible motive — like retaliation against Joel's exercise of his First Amendment rights. The real action is in the definition of "similarly situated." Drawn too broadly, Joel loses — the cops arrest people for gun possession all the time. But drawn properly, he wins: how many people with gun permits have asked for and received permission to enter City Hall, only to be arrested for doing so? If Joel can get past that prong of the two-part test, showing that the Empire has an illicit motive — which it patently does — should be a cakewalk. Hopefully there are honest judges in Minneapolis.
Once Joel is off the hook, his civil attorneys should be looking at a suit for violation of Joel's civil rights under color of law.
Where are the Minneapolis media, the guardians of the First Amendment, in all of this? They're yucking it up with the Minneapolis Police Department. Consider the take of Fox News 9, which typifies the "Crazy Bearded FREAK Brings GUN to COURTHOUSE!" coverage of most local media. All that's missing is a mention of "the Children":
Yes, Fox News in Minneapolis actually did write the deathless sentence "Ass this smacks up [sic] some sort of stunt, especially since Rosenberg setup the hidden camera before meeting with Palmer, maybe to challenge Minnesota's law or maybe just to make police look bad." I took a screenshot to preserve this monument to bad journalism.
It's as though Lou Grant and Murray Slaughter were fired in the last round of layoffs, leaving Ted Baxter to write his own copy. You can forget about the media sticking up for some Joe Citizen's free speech rights, because they don't consider "freedom of speech" related to "freedom of the press."
As Scott Greenfield points out, in his take on the case, every word of which is worth reading:
To some outside observers, Joel may appear to bring disrepute on the concealed carry community by his steadfast adherence to his rights and the law. Some are more inclined to lick badges than hold firm to the grip of a semi-automatic. But then, some carry a gun to make them a man, rather than the other way around. Regardless of whether their threshold and Joel's are at the same point, there shouldn't be a rational one in the bunch who doesn't appreciate that Joel is doing what they talk about at NRA cocktail parties.
I can only add that by facing the prospect of prison for criticizing the police, Rosenberg is doing what they talk about at Journalism school parties. Here's hoping the courts in Minneapolis aren't as corrupt as the police.
We don't yet know if Joel has a legal defense fund. If he does, we'll pass it on. We've offered free legal advice and assistance. Please offer your support through following and spreading the story — and, perhaps, through a citizen comment.
Yes, Joel Rosenberg strikes many of us as an odd duck. That's in part because he wears his heart on his sleeve, openly gives a shit about abuses of power both great and petty, and takes grave risks to fight them. It's not very becoming that we find that odd, is it?
Update: More from Mark Bennett.
Update #2: Crime and Federalism on the excessive bail imposed on Rosenberg, who has no criminal record and has lived in Minneapolis for over twenty years.
Update #3: Friends of Joel have created a news feed about the case. Thanks to Rob Doar for the tip.
Update #4: Thanks to Radley Balko and Say Uncle for the links. If any of our new readers are as upset by this as I am, I'd encourage you to share one of the other stories linked above (Bennett, Greenfield, and Crime and Federalism are particularly good on the facts and law) on your own blog, Twitter, or Facebook. That the judge gave Rosenberg a $100,000 bond for a non-violent first offense is a bad sign.
Update #5: Vox Day: Shameless!
Update #6: Sincere thanks to Instapundit for the link.
Update #7: Rob Doar has an excellent case summary.
Update #8: I have it on good authority that someone from the Minneapolis Police Department is trolling our comments, and others. Say Uncle caught him.
Update #9: While we slept some generous soul stepped forward and fronted the $10,000 cash Joel needed to make bail. He is out of jail but still facing a five year sentence (if convicted) and legal bills. We'll have more on a legal defense fund when one is set up, but if you'd like to help Joel with the bond (it was a loan, not a gift), there is a Paypal link at the words "generous soul."
Update #10: A nice story and a bit of history from Armed and Dangerous.
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