Melody Hubertus said she came equipped with milk jugs and gauze pads to aid people gathered near her Minneapolis home to protest the May 25 police killing of George Floyd.
Gov. Tim Walz had just ordered an emergency curfew for the Twin Cities as the seething unrest over Floyd’s death escalated to violence. As law enforcement closed in one evening, the 22-year-old former University of Minnesota neuroscience student rushed to the aid of a fellow protester who was bleeding after being struck by a tear-gas canister.
Moments later, Hubertus was hit by a rubber bullet, she said. Her knee throbbing with pain, she crumpled behind a car before becoming one of more than 60 people arrested and charged with violating the curfew in Hennepin County.
Now, Hubertus can thank former NFL star and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick for helping to foot her legal bills. Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Foundation has donated what’s being described as a “substantial” sum to attorneys in Minnesota and around the country to help defend protesters like Hubertus, who said she is between jobs and was recently homeless.
“I’m so unbelievably grateful and really excited that there is an organization that does that and that people don’t have to be afraid to go out and protest injustice,” Hubertus said.
Her attorney, Ryan Garry, has been tapped by Kaepernick’s foundation to also draft legal motions to be shared with other lawyers in similar cases in Minnesota. Garry said he is seeking to dismiss all cases like Hubertus’ on First Amendment grounds.
Garry said he was not in it for the money. “I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do and I think at this pivotal moment in our nation’s history we are going to look back and say, ‘How did we react?’ ” he said. “I want to react and try to do the right thing.”
Garry said he wants to see all of the cases joined together to be defended in court.
“We’re in it for the end game,” he said. “We’re not going to court to just simply plead out. We’re doing this because these folks had a right to protest and the government is punishing them for exercising their constitutional right to free speech.”
Walz imposed nearly a week of nighttime curfew orders and fully mobilized the Minnesota National Guard after riots led to arson and vandalism to scores of buildings and businesses across the Twin Cities. About 100 people have been charged with violating the emergency curfew order in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Like Hubertus, many still have charges pending and face fines of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail.
Kaepernick — the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who became one of the country’s most visible civil rights advocates when he took a knee in 2016 during the national anthem to protest police brutality — launched his new Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defense Initiative amid the widespread unrest following Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. The legal fund is being paid for through Kaepernick’s charity.
“When there is an injustice within our community, it is our legal right to address it, by any means necessary,” reads a message on the fund’s website.
Ben Meiselas, a Los Angeles civil rights lawyer and general counsel for the legal defense initiative, said it keeps in touch daily with attorneys like Garry. The fund won’t disclose how many lawyers it is working with or how much money has been raised, but Meiselas described the effort as “a significant undertaking with some of the top legal professionals.”
“It is a systemic approach that we are in for the long haul,” Meiselas said.
Hubertus struggles to find the right words to describe the feeling of knowing that her legal defense is being paid for. Looking back on the protests, she said, “I am very, very proud of my city. I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out.”
She said the rubber bullet fired at her “blew out” her knee and that she had to spend 23 hours a day in her cell because of coronavirus restrictions before being released. Still, even without the legal aid, Hubertus said she would hit the streets again if she deemed it necessary.
“I would be much more afraid, but I wouldn’t do anything different,” Hubertus said.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755