from ‘we-thought-we-would-get-out-of-this’-is-not-a-valid-defense department
Two years ago, as the COVID pandemic began to dramatically transform the daily lives of nearly everyone on the planet, the United States Postal Service decided to protect cops from passive criticism. A month after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin personified America’s pervasive racism by kneeling on the neck of unarmed black man George Floyd until his death, the USPS is intervened to seize a shipment of face masks containing phrases like “Stop killing black people” and “Defund the police.
Face mask suppliers were in short supply during the first months of the pandemic. Oakland Screenprinter motion ink stepped up to fill the void, sending functional face masks with slogans related to social justice. The small business run by Oakland resident Rene Quinonez had never had any issues with the US Postal Service before these masks were shipped. But the USPS suddenly decided it had a problem with its latest products and inexplicably decided to treat the First and Fourth Amendments as disposable.
The masks, commissioned by activist group Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), earned the group nearly $10,000. The initial shipment of 500 masks somehow caught the attention of the U.S. Postal Service’s investigative wing, which decided they could travel no further than the postal depot. The recipients and the sender were not given any reason for the seizure. The only information they received was a notification on their tracking information that the packages had been “seized by law enforcement.”
The United States Postal Inspection Service has never explained why it seized these clearly non-illegal masks. The next morning, the USPS released the items – again without explanation – and refunded Movement Ink’s shipping costs. This post appeared to have been prompted solely by the bad press the USPS was accumulating, and followed two days of the USPS sitting on shipments while refusing to explain why it flagged the products and blocked them from being shipped. be received by the group that had bought them.
This seizure may have been the act of a single stupid employee who thought telling the cops to stop killing black people was some kind of threat. More likely, it was a government agency inserting itself into a proxy discussion of police activity by deciding that it needed to shield the powerful from criticism. And it’s probably going to be expensive entire Postal service some money. As Ryan Reilly reports for NBC Newsthe government is being sued for violating the Fourth Amendment by searching and seizing this shipment, as well as violating the First Amendment for attempting to prevent the distribution of the messages printed on the masks.
The court case, filed Wednesday and shared first with NBC News, accuses U.S. Postal Service and U.S. Postal Inspection Service officials of violating constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment by improperly seizing boxes without probable cause, warrant or even reasonable suspicion. The lawsuit also raises the possibility that officials violated the First Amendment by seizing the masks because of their political message.
Movement Ink owner Rene Quiñonez, who owns the screen printing business in Oakland, Calif., that made the masks, told NBC News that his small family business was hit by the seizure.
“For us as an organization, as a business and as a member of our community, our intent was to support the many activities that were happening across the country,” Quiñonez told NBC News.
As the court case [PDF] notes, the USPS knew what was in the packages. And because he knew what words were in the boxes, his actions were highly suspicious and most likely illegal.
As confirmed by Defendants’ postal agent’s internal notes commemorating the seizures and searches of these boxes, millions of packages shipped each year share the non-exceptional characteristics of Rene’s and Movement Ink’s packages upon which Defendants have relied. to justify their seizures and searches without suspicion and without a warrant. And those same internal notes make it clear that the defendants knew that the packages from Movement Ink contained – in the words of the defendants – “BLM MASKS”. Thus, the defendants appear to have violated not only the Fourth Amendment, but also the First Amendment, while committing several common law offenses in the process.
This unexplained seizure – which followed three uneventful shipments of other masks bearing similar slogans – had a negative impact on the small company’s business.
René and Movement Ink have suffered serious reputational damage due to the defendants’ baseless seizures and searches of René and Movement Ink’s shipments of political masks. its new partners, but also pre-existing partners.
For example, in addition to the recipients of the political mask shipments at issue in this case, which ended talks for future orders, at least three other groups that had regularly ordered and collaborated with René and Movement Ink have ceased their partnerships and cut all ties with René and Movement Ink.
According to the USPS, the packages were held and searched for non-political reasons. Instead, they were searched for ridiculous reasons.
Defendants’ notes claim that the shipments were suspicious due to (1) “bulging contents”, (2) “parcels frequently sent from the same sender/address”, (3) “parcel destination is a traffic zone of known drug” (4) “taped or taped at all seams” and (5) “package sent from an area of known drug origin”.
In other words, the packages looked like sealed packages to prevent the loss of goods and their shipment from one region of the country to another. This justification is obviously specious. And even that belated justification is undermined by USPS notes, which indicate that inspectors had already determined which packages contained (in the USPS’s own words) “BLM masks.”
If the USPS conducted a search and seizure after determining the contents were masks with “political” slogans, it violated the First Amendment as well as the Fourth Amendment. The post office’s “well, maybe it was drugs” excuse is probably going to carry some weight in the counter arguments because that’s how the justice system works, but the rest of the allegations give definitely feel like the post office blocked this shipment because they didn’t like what was in the packaging, not because they really suspected what was in the packaging was illegal.
Even if the Postal Service wins this case, it will still lose. The optics aren’t going to improve if the USPS can convince a judge to believe that its vague statements about drug shipments add up to reasonable suspicion for further investigation, or real probable cause for a seizure. and a search. What it will always look like — thanks in large part to the USPS’s own notes on “BLM masks” — is a politically motivated action that was meant to stop people the government disliked from criticizing the government.
Filed Under: 1st amendment, 4th amendment, black lives matter, free speech, masks, black lives movement, protests, seizure, usps