My mom always told me that eating my vegetables would help me grow healthy and strong, but she neglected to mention that wearing them could get me in trouble. So when friends asked me to join the Kale People's Liberation Army section in Minneapolis's May Day parade on May 2, I agreed without hesitation.
At first I felt a little strange, walking down the street in my leafy bikini top. But as our group of about a dozen wound its way through crowds cheering with an exuberance usually reserved for World Series winners, my trepidation evaporated. Though it was a hot day and the Liberation Army was loud as hell, I was only aware of the sweet rustle of the greens on my skin.
However, that bliss was not to last. As we entered the park, our float dropped out of the parade line and stopped in front of the recreation center. While some members of the Army chose to change into street clothes right there, three of us headed for more privacy in the bathrooms. A Park Police officer approached and informed us that if we didn't put on "decent clothing," we would be ticketed, and that all of us had to leave the park.
No problem. We didn't want problems. We told the officer that we would change inside and then leave. But while peeling off our kale in the bathrooms, we heard the ominous sound of a walkie-talkie in the hallway. As we came out, the officer announced that he had changed his mind: He was going to cite us for violating Minneapolis Statute PB 2-21, a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of $700 or 90 days in jail. We took our tickets and left.
Clearly, this called for some journalistic investigation. First I called the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, where lawyers jumped at the chance to represent me and my codefendants. Next, I contacted police, parade organizers, and city officials, always asking the same basic question: What sort of precedent is there for ticketing people who are wearing kale? What follows is a partial transcript of those conversations--after the laughter died down.
Captain William Jacobs, Minneapolis Park Police
CP:What is the exact wording of Ordinance PB 2-21?
Jacobs: The Proper Clothing ordinance? I'd be happy to read it to you. "No person ten years of age or older shall intentionally expose his or her own genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breasts below the top of the areola without a fully opaque covering in or upon any park or parkway area as defined in PB 1-1. This provision does not apply to theatrical, musical or other artistic performances on any park or parkway where no alcoholic beverages are sold.
CP:In other words, if this had been part of a performance, it would have been more acceptable?
Jacobs:That's my understanding. [But] this was a parade, and not an artistic performance.
CP:If we have photos that show that nothing was showing, would that make a difference?
Jacobs: I'm not sure what the photos would prove. If it was a video, that might be different.
CP:What sort of previous issues have you had with improper clothing or public indecency in parades or park performances?
Jacobs:I'll be perfectly honest with you--I don't recall ever having one like that. This ordinance is enforced most commonly with what people like to call the nude beach.
CP:There was an entire group of people wearing kale at the May Day festival who--
Jacobs:The commissioner called me about it last night and I read the report.
CP:--so you know that there was a number of people who were wearing kale. Why would only three of us be ticketed?
Jacobs:That sort of discretion we have to leave to our folks in the field. As long as what they did was lawfully correct, we're not going to second-guess them.
Carol Lansing, assistant city attorney
CP: My question regards the May Day parade, and a group of people who were wearing kale. A park officer cited three of the members for improper clothing.
Lansing: Wearing kale?
CP: The vegetable.
Lansing:That's what I thought (laughs). Were they nude underneath?
CP: Not the people who were ticketed.
Lansing: I don't know about the case--it may not be in the system yet. It takes some time before that gets filed.
CP:Do you know how often someone is charged with that type of offense?
Lansing:I don't have numbers, but we see it every year. With the lakes and everything, every once in a while people aren't wearing what they should be wearing.
CP:Have you ever seen it used in a parade
Lansing:No, that's unusual. But I don't know the case and so I couldn't comment.
CP:Where would a case like this go from here?
Lansing:You go to the Violations Bureau and ask for a court date. And in that courtroom, there are prosecutors who have the paperwork. Often we do continuances for dismissal without a plea when there is a minor first offense and a strange situation that doesn't warrant a heavy penalty.