A federal judge has ruled that Ferguson, Missouri police violated protesters’ constitutional rights when they ordered demonstrators to keep walking, at times barring them from standing still for more than five seconds.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry issued a preliminary injunction forbidding law enforcement from asserting that First Amendment rights only apply while those practicing them are marching because “it is likely that these agencies will again apply this unconstitutional policy” without an order preventing it.
Around August 18 (and before, according to some witnesses), law enforcement forced protesters to continue moving no matter what, or face arrest, in an attempt to disperse those who were demonstrating in support of Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager gunned down in the street by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of protesters, asserting that the “five second rule” violated protesters’ First Amendment rights.
Judge Perry said that the injunction was not intended to cripple law enforcement’s ability to break up a rowdy protest — but to prevent enforcement of an “ad hoc rule” law enforcement fabricated in order to make protesters’ lives difficult.
“Law enforcement must be able to use the full range of lawful means to control crowds and protest people and property from acts of violence and vandalism, including ordering a crowd to move or disperse if law enforcement officers believe the crowd is assembled for the purpose of violence or rioting. Nor does this order prevent authorities from restricting protesting in certain areas or making other reasonable restrictions on the protests’ time, place and manner,” the judge wrote. “This injunction prevents only the enforcement of an ad hoc rule developed for the Ferguson protests that directed police officers, if they felt like it, to order peaceful, law-abiding protesters to keep moving rather than standing still.”
The decision is effective immediately.