Judge says Ferguson police can’t require protesters to keep it moving

YOUR RIGHT OF THE DAY: You have the right to peacefully gather with others on public sidewalks, and police may not unreasonably restrict this right.*

What’s the news?

Police apparently love telling people to keep it moving, claiming that it helps maintain order. Or perhaps it’s secretly part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign? In any case, police might not be able to keep using this line towards people who are on a public sidewalk, not violating any laws and not obstructing the flow of traffic.

We recently told you about the 74 year old lawyer in NYC who was arrested simply for refusing to move it along during an Occupy protest (the charges against him were later dropped). Well, police in Ferguson, MO have been arresting protesters who remained in one spot for more than 5 seconds.

Yesterday a judge in Missouri ruled that the 5-second rule (not the one about eating food off the floor) violates the Constitution, including the First Amendment right to assembly. The judge’s order said police may not

“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.”

While police may place “reasonable” restrictions on the time, place, and manner of gatherings, the judge ruled that the 5-second rule is not reasonable. The judge said that the 5-second rule prevented citizens from exercising their right to peacefully assemble on public sidewalks.

What does this mean for me?

This particular ruling only applies to St. Louis County, however the decision could be used in similar cases around the country and eventually become a nationwide rule. If this happens, it would likely mean that if you are on a public sidewalk, police would not be able to force you to move unless you were blocking the flow of traffic or doing anything illegal.

*Source: U.S. Constitution, 1st AmendmentCox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 554 (1965); Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U.S. 474, 480 (1988)

Photo: "Ferguson, Day 4, Photo 42" by Loavesofbread - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ferguson,_Day_4,_Photo_42.png#mediaviewer/File:Ferguson,_Day_4,_Photo_42.png
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