A federal judge has informed the police agencies in Ferguson, Missouri that the First Amendment still exists and will be enforced in that city. Specifically, the court ruled that the policy of arresting people for standing still for more than 5 seconds during protests is clearly unconstitutional.
But the first court ruling has been issued telling police to stand down when it comes to dealing with protesters. U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry held Monday that police can’t force protesters to “keep moving” — what some have dubbed the “five second rule.”
Police have developed a practice that prohibits protesters or others in protest zones from standing still. The upshot of this policy has been that even protesters who are peacefully praying, holding public gatherings, reporting the news, and informing others of their rights have been corralled into assembly lines and told they will be arrested if they don’t “keep moving.” Officers have also threatened protesters for walking too slowly, or who walk back and forth within a limited space. And they have followed through on those threats. After one individual was arrested under the policy, citing a “failure to disperse,” an officer told an NBC News reporter: “He was supposed to keep moving, just as you’re supposed to keep moving.”
The net effect, Judge Perry concluded, was that it prevented protesters from exercising their right to “peacefully assemble on the sidewalk.”
“The rule provided no notice to citizens of what conduct was unlawful, and its enforcement was entirely arbitrary and left to the unfettered discretion of the officers on the street,” Perry held. She issued a preliminary injunction, meaning police must halt their practice pending a permanent ruling.
It’s hard to imagine a more blatant violation of the right to peaceably assemble.