Postal Service Sued For Seizing BLM Masks Amid George Floyd Protests

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The U.S. Postal service has been hit with a lawsuit after allegedly seizing shipments of Black Lives Matter masks meant to protect protestors from COVID-19 following George Floyd's murder.

Over 2,000 masks that read "Stop killing Black people" and "Defund police" were allegedly marked as "seized by law enforcement" and delayed shipment for over 24 hours without probable cause, a warrant, or reasonable suspicion, according to a lawsuit obtained by NBC News.

The Institute for Justice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Movement Ink, the mask manufacturer, against the U.S. Postal Service for violating constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment by delaying the boxes from reaching their destinations of D.C., St. Louis, New York City, and Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed at the hands of police.

The suit also suggests that officials may have also violated First Amendment rights by seizing the masks due to their political messaging. It's unclear whether the defendants knew the boxes contained Black Lives Matter masks.

René Quiñonez, owner of Movement Ink in Oakland, California, added that the seizure negatively impacted his family-run business. Quiñonez and his employees "worked around the clock" to mass-produce masks in June 2020 and built relationships "with activist movements, organizations, nonprofits, and individual organizers, who relied on René and Movement Ink for various screen-printing needs."

However, after the seizure, his business relationships soured.

"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."

According to the lawsuit, the mask seizure “created a pall of suspicion, distraction, uncertainty, and confusion around René and Movement Ink."

“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,” the lawsuit continues.

“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,” the suit reads.

In response to a letter sent to Rep. Barbara Lee in June 2020, the U.S. Postal Service said the packages "were detained solely because the external physical characteristics of the parcels were consistent with parcels in other non-related instances that were confirmed to contain nonmailable matter, specifically controlled substances."

However, the lawsuit argues that the masks were "neatly taped, [in] nondescript brown boxes," and clearly labeled.

Quiñonez said about the suit, "The fact that our government can just seize private property — either because of just general suspicion or because they know its political commentary — that's a scary reality that we live in."

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