Judge Denies ACLU Request to Ease Protest Rules in Ferguson
By Margaret Gillerman
A federal judge Monday night denied a motion by the American Civil Liberties Union for a temporary restraining order to stop police from requiring people to keep moving on sidewalks and thoroughfares in Ferguson unless they're gathered in a designated protest area.
The ACLU suit said that large numbers of demonstrators had taken to the streets and sidewalks to express their opinions "about ...the relationship between police and the community, the frequency with which police officers shoot unarmed black men and the militarization of local police forces."
The suit by the ACLU was filed Monday against St. Louis County, Highway Patrol Superintendent Ronald Replogle and five individual unnamed police officers. The ACLU says that the practice orders "people who are violating no law ... to refrain from gathering or standing for more than five seconds on public sidewalks."
The suit also said that the measure places "restrictions on the ability of the media to witness and report on unfolding events."
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster defended the law enforcement measures, including the designated protest area. He said the measures were designed to protect public safety in Ferguson. Koster's office said the action by U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry clears the way "for law enforcement officers to continue their efforts to protect the people and property of Ferguson."
While the vast majority of protestors are peaceful, Koster said in a tweeted statement, "law enforcement has repeatedly encountered groups employing violence against officers, businesses and threatening the citizens of Ferguson.
"Peaceful protest will continue, but the violence must stop," Koster said "This restriction (that protestors remain in a designated site) is as narrowly tailored as the gunfire and violence along West Florssant Avene will allow."
The St. Louis County Police Department has publicly announced a designated protest area established at Ferguson and West Florissant avenues.
The ACLU says "there is widespread interest" the tactics, which the ACLU says "raise questions about whether a military response to protest is consistent with the values of the United States as well as the lack of transparency in the handling of the shooting investigation and response to the unrest."
The suit was filed on behalf of Mustafa Abdullah, a Missouri resident who was ordered five times in one hour to refrain from gathering or standing for more than five seconds, the ACLU said.
This is the second federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU in a week challenging the treatment of the news media and public as they assemble in Ferguson. A suit filed last Thursday sought stop police from trying to prevent the news media and public from recording law enforcement actions.
The two sides reached an agreement that public events may be recorded by the media and public under certain conditions. Those are "unless it obstructs the activity or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties."
(c)2014 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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