Listen: Anti-pornography protests in Saint Paul

MPR’s Dan Olson profiles protests of pornography businesses on St. Paul’s University Avenue. Report includes commentary from Archbishop John Roach, St. Paul Councilman Bill Wilson, and Ferris Alexander, owner of controversial Faust Theater.


1987 Minnesota AP Award, honorable mention in Spot and Hard News category

1988 MNSPJ Page One Award, second place in Excellence in Journalism - Radio Spot News category


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We are the children

We are the ones to make a brighter day, so let's start giving

DAN OLSON: The Sounds of Blackness vocal trio stood on the stage of a portable Saint Paul Parks bandshell, which had been parked in front of the Flick Movie Theater on University Avenue at Dale. Archbishop John Roach of the Saint Paul Minneapolis archdiocese stepped to the microphone to read a statement.

ARCHBISHOP JOHN ROACH: The religious community of Saint Paul is tiny but is eager to be a part of the attempt to wrest from this community and this neighborhood what we believe to be a cancer.

DAN OLSON: The statement read by Roach had been signed by more than a dozen of the state's major religious groups. And it included five points, which at face value, appear to offer the neighborhood a broad range of support. One of the points, for example, commits the religious groups to working politically to help the neighborhood get rid of the pornography businesses, including the statement said, "participation in redevelopment."

The groups also pledged support to an effort to set community standards. This last point was defined by Saint Paul council member Bill Wilson. Wilson noted that laws already in existence prohibit the sale of pornography, but enforcement is virtually nonexistent since most communities have not defined community standards which would be used as evidence in pornography cases.

BILL WILSON: Once that survey is done of the community, which would involve them identifying through a scientific-- scientifically established methods what would constitute obscenity in their view, this then can be used as evidentiary material by prosecuting attorneys.

DAN OLSON: Saint Paul City Council member, Bill Wilson.


(SINGING) Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me

DAN OLSON: As The Sounds of Blackness vocal trio led those assembled in the hymn, "Amazing Grace," the normally heavy noon hour traffic on University Avenue was constricted by the police barricades set up to accommodate the crowd. The protest drew honks from passing motorists, and it drew onlookers across the street.

One of the observers, leaning against the wall of the Faust Theater, dressed in a tieless white shirt and sky blue pinstripe suit, was the short, stocky figure of Ferris Alexander, the owner of the Faust Theater.

FERRIS ALEXANDER: I don't think I'd better say anything. They're a bunch of Communists over there. They don't know what the First Amendment is or the Bill of Rights, the Constitution. All they are are censors.

DAN OLSON: Alexander overcame his reluctance to speak as more reporters gathered around him for a rare public session with a man who reportedly is a major figure in the sale of pornographic materials in the upper Midwest.

FERRIS ALEXANDER: It's not only a truck drivers that come into place. There are lawyers, businessmen, ministers, rabbis, and Catholic priests-- they come in and they buy a lot of stuff in the places. Now they're turning on us now. They want to try to censor everything we do.

DAN OLSON: Alexander said only a zoning ordinance change would cause him to move. A buy out by the city would be another possibility, he said. And he put his price variously at $750,000 or $3.5 million for the property he owns. Alexander was vague about how much real estate he owns in the area. At one point, when asked if he owned all three pornography businesses in the neighborhood, he nodded assent, but then quickly added that he would have no more to say about his real estate holdings.

FERRIS ALEXANDER: Listen, there wouldn't be a video store in the United States operating if they couldn't sell adult film and rent them. They couldn't be in business. Now, there is over 50 million adult films sold last year. Now do you think 50 million people are crazy? They bought it because they want the excitement. They want to know what's going on.

DAN OLSON: Ferris Alexander. He was one of the observers as protesters gathered at Dale and University in Saint Paul to hear the state's major religious groups commit themselves to ridding the intersection of his pornography businesses. I'm Dan Olsen.


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