Oakland, Calif.-based screen print company, Movement Ink, has sued the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for confiscating Black Lives Matter masks amid 2020 protests.
According to NBC, the lawsuit, filed on Jun. 1, accused USPS and U.S. Postal Inspection Service officials of violating constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment by improperly seizing boxes of the masks without probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or a warrant. The suit also showed that officials possibly violated the First Amendment by confiscating the protective face coverings due to their political messages.
“It is not clear whether Defendants knew that the packages contained — in Defendants’ words — ‘BLM MASKS’ before seizing the packages,” the lawsuit said. “If Defendants knew that the packages contained — in Defendants’ words — ‘BLM MASKS’ before seizing the packages, Defendants violated the First Amendment by seizing packages because of their political messages.”
About 500 cloth masks featuring the phrases “Stop killing Black people” and “Defund police were initially purchased by the Movement For Black Lives (M4BL) to protect demonstrators from COVID-19 as they protested the death of police brutality victim George Floyd. They were scheduled to be shipped to New York City, D.C., St. Louis, and Minneapolis, where Floyd was tragically killed. However, four boxes of the masks were reportedly marked as “seized by law enforcement,” and their shipment was delayed for over 24 hours.
Movement Ink owner René Quiñonez, his family, and at least 12 employees and volunteers “worked around the clock” to create the BLM masks during the first week of June 2020, the suit stated. It was filed on Quiñonez’s behalf by the nonprofit public interest law firm, the Institute for Justice.
“Instead of focusing on printing and shipping political Covid-protective masks and other apparel, René and Movement Ink had to waste time figuring out why their innocuous packages were in the hands of law enforcement, and how to get them released while also fielding questions, concerns, and even accusations from partners, community members, and social media commenters,” his lawsuit said. “René, Movement Ink, and their partners were left wondering why these Covid- protective political masks were in the hands of law enforcement officials instead of on the faces of political protestors.”
It also said that the “baseless seizures and searches” caused mental and emotional distress to Quiñonez “because he and Movement Ink have been effectively shut out of a movement and a community that they spent (and continue to spend) years investing their time and energy in.”
The concerned Calif. businessman told NBC that Movement Ink “lost business” since the incident because it made people hesitant to support the company. He previously had a good relationship with USPS employees, as they frequently shipped out his items and built an excellent reputation with many activists and organizations. Still, some of those relationships dissipated after the BLM merch was confiscated.
“When there’s an organization or a company that now has a reputation for being a target of law enforcement, people don’t want to do business with them,” Quiñonez said. “Even the people that are like-minded, that know that there are fundamental flaws in the way that we address things, they need to protect their interests. So we lost business.”
USPS has not publicly responded to the suit.