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Freedom of Speech at Heart of Advocate Action in Wake of Protests

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently filed several lawsuits in response to the fallout from George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One is aimed at protecting journalists covering protests and the other challenges curfews in Los Angeles and San Bernardino. Additional actions are also planned, says the advocacy group.

demonstration 5267931 640The first suit, a class action against Minnesota state and local law enforcement officials, claims journalists attempting to cover protests in the wake of Floyd’s death have been “conspicuous” targets for intimidation, arrest and assault by police despite being clearly identified as media.

“As people take to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and too many other Black people who have been killed by police in recent years, journalists have joined them to bear witness,” reads information from the ACLU. “These apparently deliberate attacks on journalists violate the First Amendment freedom of the press, and they will not go unanswered.”

According to the organization, its is also planning several other initiatives related to the right to protest and preventing police brutality.

In response to reports of rioting and looting throughout the nation, President Donald Trump has taken a firm stance against displays of protestor violence, and pledged to use any federal resources at his disposal to restore “security and safety in America.”

“I am mobilizing all available federal resources—civilian and military—to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights,” the president said Monday, June 1 from the Rose Garden.

Trump called on governors to deploy the National Guard and for local officials to help establish an “an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled.”

The ACLU, on the other hand, has cried foul over arrests and alleged abuse of those at the hands of those asked to protect the streets. The ACLU cited the arrest of a CNN news crew featuring correspondent Omar Jimenez and the tear-gassing of Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske and photographer Carolyn Cole, among others, as evidence the police have inhibited free speech during public demonstrations. In both cases, it says, the members of the press were clearly identified. Jimenez and his crew repeatedly offered to cooperate with law enforcement, it notes.

“These attacks violate the press’s clearly established First Amendment right to report on public protests and police activities. An open society depends on a free press to keep the public informed and to bear witness to government actions,” reads information from the ACLU. “When law enforcement officers target members of the press with impunity, they strike at the root of our democracy. Law enforcement officers who perpetrate these abuses must be held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent of the law.”

A statement shared with media from Minneapolis City Attorney Erik Nilsson indicates the city is reviewing the allegations and will continue to support the First Amendment.


Zoe Tillman @ZoeTillman

"New lawsuit last night of note: Black Lives Matter + ACLU suing Los Angeles and other local officials in southern California over curfews. '...extraordinary suppression of literally all political protest after dark plainly violates the First Amendment.'

In the same vein, the ACLU has filed separate actions in California on behalf of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, protestors, journalists and others challenging “draconian” curfews instilled in recent days. “The curfews’ extraordinary suppression of all political protest in the evening hours plainly violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and their blanket restrictions on movement outside working hours violate the Constitution’s protection of freedom of movement,” reads information from the advocacy group.

The ACLU claims the curfews prohibit “innocuous” activities like grocery shopping, visiting friends and relatives and even seeking medical attention. The curfews, too, it says, inhibit journalism. “It has become increasingly clear that law enforcement officials are not just controlling crowds, but also suppressing speech. L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters that the L.A. County curfew will remain in force ‘until the organized protests are gone,’” claims the ACLU.

Per the group, the defendants in the lawsuit include:

  • Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles
  • Michel Moore, chief of Los Angeles Police Department
  • Alex Villanueva, sheriff of Los Angeles County
  • Eric McBride, chief of San Bernardino Police Department
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