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City official files, withdraws discrimination charge over cartoon

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MINNESOTA--The director of St. Paul's Department of Human Rights, who had filed a discrimination complaint against the St. Paul Pioneer…

MINNESOTA–The director of St. Paul’s Department of Human Rights, who had filed a discrimination complaint against the St. Paul Pioneer Press in early June for publishing a controversial editorial cartoon, withdrew his complaint two weeks later after meeting with the newspaper’s attorney and editorial page editor.

The editorial cartoon, captioned “The Plantation,” depicted several University of Minnesota black athletes playing basketball while two white men in suits looked on from the crowd. One of the men says to the other, “Of course we don’t let them learn to read or write.”

The cartoon was a comment on the investigation surrounding the University of Minnesota’s athletic program.

But Department of Human Rights Director Tyrone Terrill did not see “The Plantation” as political commentary protected by the First Amendment. Instead, he filed charges against the newspaper under the city’s human rights ordinance, alleging that the editorial cartoon “discriminated against African American student-athletes past, present and future in the area of public accommodations on the basis of race.”

Terrill said the newspaper’s discriminatory practice “includes, but is not limited to,” the publishing of the cartoon.

But the newspaper’s attorney said she is unsure of how an editorial cartoon could discriminate in the area of public accommodations. The ordinance refers to prohibiting discrimination in public places, Pioneer Press attorney Laura Davis explained to the Associated Press. But she wondered how an editorial cartoon could affect a public place.

Furthermore, the editorial cartoon should be protected by the First Amendment, Davis said.

“[Editorial] pages enjoy broad protection. . . . and it is not uncommon that things are going to be printed that people don’t like,” she said.