The city of Ferguson, MO, hasn’t left the news since August, after unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson in broad daylight. Ferguson police have tried to quell the protests that have taken place since Brown’s death, but now a federal judge has ruled that those officers’ tactics are violating constitutional law.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled on Monday, Oct. 6, that law enforcement agencies must stop forcing protesters to move rather than stand still. Perry issued a preliminary injunction to halt the officers’ practice of this tactic.
During the city’s daily protests, law enforcement officials have ordered people to walk in an effort to control the crowds. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union sued them to make them stop.
Perry agreed with the ACLU, citing the constitutional rights of the protesters and granting the preliminary injunction “because it is likely that these agencies will again apply this unconstitutional policy,” she said in her order.
However, Perry also ruled that police can still enforce laws on the books in Missouri, such as the failure-to-disperse law and other measures used to control crowds and protect people or property. The injunction would stop police from developing their own “ad hoc rule” for the Ferguson protests, specifically.
The order stops police “from enforcing or threatening to enforce any rule, policy or practice that grants law enforcement officers the authority or discretion to arrest, threaten to arrest or order to move individuals who are violating no statute or regulation and who are peaceably standing, marching or assembling on public sidewalks in Ferguson, Missouri,” according to Perry’s ruling.
Both the ACLU and Amnesty International USA consider the ruling a civil rights law victory, as the situation in Ferguson grows more tense by the day.
Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, called the ruling a “huge win” for peaceful protesters. “Vague rules that are applied in a haphazard fashion tend to increase community tension,” he said.
“The right to peaceably assemble is a cornerstone of the First Amendment. The Eastern District of Missouri’s opinion is evenhanded and reflects a great appreciation of that critical right at a time in Saint Louis County when fear-mongering and blanket overtures of security might otherwise prevail. This opinion, like every opinion that better secures our fundamental rights, serves as a victory in the body of civil rights law,” says Jeff Storms, Partner at Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp LLP.
Although the Missouri Highway Patrol has been placed in charge of policing the protests, the organization released a statement saying that it aims to “allow citizens to speak while keeping the community safe.”
The statement went on to say that the ruling is consistent with their goals “because it allows protesters to exercise their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble but allows law enforcement to impose appropriate restrictions to protect the public from violence.”