Kelso Police Department trampling 1st amendment rights
Kelso PD denied a permit for a vigil to mark the death of over 1000 troops in Iraq and protest the illegal war. 8 people showed up anyhow. 6 cops showed up and threatened arrest. The ACLU got involved and now we need your help.
Kelso is not exactly a hotbed of radicalism, but a few weeks ago some citizens decided to hold a candle light vigil at the Allen Street Bridge in Kelso to mark the needless death of over 1000 U.S.troops in Iraq. They dutifully went to the Kelso Police Department to fill out the needed paperwork but were denied a permit because the Chief of police was unavailable to sign it. Figuring that it's their constitutional right to freely assemble, eight people showed up with signs and candles in silent protest of an illegal war. Shortly thereafter, six Kelso police officers showed up and threatened these people with arrest if they didn't disperse.
The ACLU lawyers have written to the city council of Kelso to let them know that the police department doesn't have the right to determine who is allowed to assemble and who is not. Tomorrow, October 1, at 3:30 p.m. there will be another (permitless) protest at the Allen Street Bridge. We don't need no stinkin' permit, but we do need bodies. We're begging anyone who is able, to come to Kelso tomorrow and let the cops know that even anti-war protesters have the right to assembly. Bring signs or not, but please come.
Take I5 to Kelso exit 39 and a left onto Allen Street. The Allen Street Bridge is about 1/2 mile. Cross the bridge and meet on the other side for the protest. Thanks!
Here's the article from today's Longview Daily News:
ACLU says Kelso's assembly law is unconstitutional
By Amy M. E. Fischer
Sep 30, 2004 - 07:24:34 am PDT
A Kelso city ordinance requiring a permit for public demonstrations is unconstitutional, and the city must rewrite it or face litigation, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington lawyers told Kelso officials this week.
"... The First Amendment does not allow a city to limit public assemblies on streets, sidewalks, and parks only to those events that meet with the approval of the chief of police," ACLU attorney Aaron Caplan wrote in a letter dated Monday to Kelso's mayor.
The letter advised the city to change its ordinance to "reflect long-settled First Amendment law, protect the rights of its citizens, and avoid unnecessary litigation."
Mayor Don Gregory said Wednesday that neither he nor the City Council would comment on the letter because "it's a legal issue," he said.
Kelso city attorney Paul Brachvogel said Wednesday there was a strong presumption that the code is constitutional because it was lawfully passed and has not been successfully rebutted. He has not had a chance to confirm Caplan's conclusions, Brachvogel said.
Regardless, the city will work with the ACLU to come up with a "completely constitutional" ordinance, Brachvogel said. The City Council is aware of people's civil liberties and wants to encourage political discussion and debate, he said.
"These folks on the council are really true-blue Americans and they believe all these things," Brachvogel said. "The question is how to regulate political speech to prevent harm to the greater public."
"I'm not sure what harm is being talked about," said ACLU spokesman Doug Honig when told of Brachvogel's response. "Everybody's in favor of preventing harm to the public."
The ACLU got wind of Kelso's ordinance after seeing a story in The Daily News (9/22/04) about a man asking the City Council why he needed a permit to hold a candlelight vigil on the Allen Street Bridge. Longview resident Dan Smith, who spoke at the Sept. 21 meeting, and seven others had gathered Sept. 9 to honor the 1,000 U.S. casualties of the Iraq war, when Kelso police told them to move elsewhere because they lacked a parade permit.
The City Council, at the meeting Smith attended, debated over who needed a permit to wave a sign or demonstrate in public and decided to research ways to make the permit process easier.
According to the ACLU, the only speech ordinances that require a permit are those that block traffic, such as a parade or march. The law allows reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, such as noise ordinances that limit how loud an event can be, Caplan said.
Within the last year, the ACLU successfully challenged Tacoma and Spokane in court over free speech issues, Caplan said. The city of Tacoma had been charging too much for parade permits, and Spokane had required permits to pass out leaflets on a sidewalk.
"It's part of life in an American city to have small groups of people on the sidewalk expressing an opinion," Caplan said.
The ACLU, which specializes in free speech and First Amendment law, wants to share with Kelso examples of how other cities have written their ordinances, said Caplan.
Kelso Police Chief Wayne Nelson told the Kelso council that parade permits aren't intended to control who may demonstrate, but to provide advance notice of how many police might be needed to patrol the area.
But the ACLU said it's hard to predict how many protestors or counter-protestors will arrive, and that police can be summoned if fights break out.
"Cities around the state have ordinances that don't require small groups of people who are picketing to get permits, and they protect public safety just fine," Honig said.
Public gatherings: ACLU lists precedents
In his letter to Kelso Mayor Don Gregory, an ACLU lawyer wrote that Kelso's parade and demonstration ordinance was the most restrictive he had ever seen.
Cities normally don't regulate sidewalk demonstrations, and Kelso's existing laws prohibiting disorderly conduct should be sufficient for public safety, wrote ACLU attorney Aaron Caplan.
In the letter, Caplan listed 19 court decisions that have set precedents regarding free speech. Among other things, courts have established that:
• Public demonstrations cannot be limited to those approved by the chief of police.
• Even if another city official other than the police chief may approve permits, the problem is not solved "since the problem is with the permit scheme itself and not the person who administers it."
• Picketing, leafleting and standing in vigil enjoy special constitutional protection on sidewalks, and no advance permission is required.
• The city may not deny permission to demonstrate based on the viewpoint the marchers intend to express.
• Cities may require advance notice, but the notice must be "justified by administrative necessity" and be flexible enough to allow political parades to form on short notice.
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