Printer sues postal service for seizure of BLM masks in 2020

René Quiñonez, owner of Movement Ink, says the masks were for protestors participating in George Floyd demonstrations.

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The Oakland, California printer who created Black Lives Matter face masks that were seized by the U.S. Postal service has filed suit against the agency for rights violations, damaging his reputation and causing him business losses, among other claims, according to an NBC News report.

The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm, filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service and U.S. Postal Inspection Service on behalf of René Quiñonez. The lawsuit asserts that the mask seizure “created a pall of suspicion, distraction, uncertainty, and confusion around René and his business, Movement Ink.” 

The masks were supposed to be shipped to cities like Washington, D.C., New York and Minneapolis. Instead, the U.S. Postal Service seized four boxes containing about 500 masks each and delayed their delivery for more than 24 hours, NBC News reports, detailing Quiñonez’s lawsuit.

Movement Ink owner René Quiñonez created thousands of masks with Black Lives Matter-themed slogans meant to be shipped across the nation to protect protesters from COVID-19. (Photo: J. Justin Wilson/Institute for Justice)

Their temporary stoppage — for which they were designated “Seized by law enforcement” — was a violation of the constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment against improper seizure without probable cause, a warrant or even reasonable suspicion, the lawsuit states. 

“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 reads. “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 business owner also asserts damage to his reputation due to the seizure. “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 told NBC News. “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.”

At the time, postal service officials wrote to Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., explaining that the Movement Ink parcels “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 Quiñonez lawsuit alleges, according to NBC News, that they were “neatly taped, nondescript brown boxes” similar to millions of parcels mailed daily. It further states that it is unclear when the Postal Service knew the packages contained BLM masks. However, “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.”

Quiñonez’s cloth masks featured slogans like “Stop killing Black people” and “Defund police.”

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