PUBLIC PROTEST LAWS UNCONSTITUTIONAL - Mitch Perry

03/03/04

Miami Judge: Public Protest Laws unconstitutional

A federal judge now has the final word on public protests in Miami while city officials rewrite laws used to arrest hundreds of demonstrators during November's Free Trade Area of the Americas meetings.

U.S. District Judge Donald. Graham's Friday night ruling bypasses Miami's permit requirements, which activists say violate their constitutional rights to free speech and public assembly. Graham ordered the city to automatically grant all protester requests for permits. If city officials decide to prohibit a particular protest, Graham ordered, they now must state their reasons and give notice so he can hold a hearing.

Graham had signaled his concern about Miami's protest laws last month, when he agreed they seemed to carry "serious constitutional problems." The issue was raised in a suit by Miami Activist Defense, the National Lawyers Guild and Southern Legal Counsel.

Kris Hermes is a spokesperson for Miami Activist Defense. He said Judge's Graham's lawsuit stemmed from a Federal Lawsuit filed last month by arrests from arrests at the Free Trade Area of the Americas Meeting last November (roll tape#1 o.q."refusal to disperse")

Lawyers for the protesters argued the city was attempting to control free speech. Activist groups were required to post insurance bonds and designate a single organizer as personally responsible for any property damage that occurs.

Again, Kris Hermes from the Miami Activist Defense (roll tape#2 o.q."or not")

Meanwhile, as WMNF reported last Friday, it appears that Miami city officials are ready to repeal the controversial "Parade and Assembly Ordinance" enacted as the city geared up for mass anti-FTAA demonstrations. That ordinance prohibited protesters from carrying props including water pistols, balloons, bottles and sticks and requires a permit for public gatherings of seven or more people if they last more than 30 minutes.

One City Commissioner, Johnny Winton, is quoted in today's South Florida SunSentinel as saying that Commissioner weren't sure they liked the Ordinance, but thought they needed to pass it to protect Miami from becoming a battleground a la Seattle and the WTO protests in the late 1999.

Miami Activist Defense's Kris Hermes says the reason for that ordinance came at the orders of one extremely influential law enforcement official (roll tape#3 o.q."in the 1st place") ....Miami spent more than $23 million to control an estimated 10,000 demonstrators during the FTAA talks, far fewer than had been expected. Of the 234 arrested, only one person has been convicted. Charges against a majority of the demonstrators have been dismissed or reduced.Miami City officials are working right now on making Miami the permanent home of the FTAA Ministerial.....

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