Target has come under fire after issuing a statement that emphasized that the company believed in equality and inclusivity, after a few states began considering and/or passing laws that prohibited transgendered people from using the bathroom of the gender that they identified with. Target’s statement welcomes employees and customers to use the restroom that correspond to the individual’s gender identity, rather than their sex at birth.
The company’s stance has resulted in backlash from those that believe that the company should restrict restroom use by birth gender. Most notably, the backlash includes a boycott sponsored by a conservative Christian organization. At least one man is alleged to have decided that boycotting the store was not enough and opted to express his disapproval inside a local store.
On May 2, 2016, the Bradley Police Department, in Bradley, IL, received a report of an active shooter in a local Target. When the police arrived, there had been no shots fired and the person that was alleged to have caused the panic, Michael Merichko, did not have a gun in his possession. It was reported, however, that Merichko shouted “America is going to hell” before leaving the store. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
There is a fine line between a protest and disorderly conduct. The Constitution guarantees the right to peacefully assemble; however, if a protest is disruptive to the entity that is being protested or the public in general, that behavior may be deemed disorderly conduct, which is a criminal offense.
In Virginia, a person is guilty of disorderly conduct if he or she causes public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, either intentionally or negligently, by engaging in behavior that tends to provoke violence. It is also disorderly conduct if an individual intentionally or while intoxicated disrupts funerals or memorial services, government meetings, school activities, and places of worship as long as the disruption interferes with the activity or tends to provoke a violent response. The penalty for disorderly conduct is up to 12 months incarceration, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.
Alexandria criminal lawyer Mary Nerino commented, “being arrested for shouting is a bit of a stretch…it is likely the officers were simply trying to de-escalate the situation, but a person really shouldn’t be facing criminal charges of disorderly conduct in a situation like this.”
People remain free to protest for any reason that they deem necessary; however, when doing so, it is best to be cognizant of the restrictions to that freedom to avoid criminal charges.