Earlier this week, the Southern California ACLU filed a lawsuit to stop the city of Los Angeles from imposing a curfew. On Thursday, the Northern California ACLU sent a letter to the mayor and city council of Sacramento, requesting that they “rescind or substantially restrict the Curfew Order proclaimed on June 1, 2020.”
Letters also went to the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Napa as well as the cities of Palo Alto and San Francisco, demanding that they immediately rescind or substantially restrict the curfew orders that they imposed over the last three days.
“Their lawful efforts to stop excessive force by law enforcement have been met, at times, with excessive force and now a curfew that improperly curtails their constitutional rights,” said Shilpi Agarwal, a senior attorney at the ACLU of Northern California Foundation.
Agarwal adds, “If anything, the imposition of a curfew, a signature measure of a police state, in direct response to protests regarding police accountability, demonstrates the importance of these protests.”
The letter notes: “The Order in its present form imposes a sweeping general ban on the public assembly, free expression in all public forums, and movement of nearly all 513,000 residents from 8pm to 5am and is neither authorized by state statutory law nor consistent with the freedoms guaranteed by the United States and California Constitutions—including the constitutional rights to freedom of speech, assembly, press and movement, and the most basic notice requirements.”
The police killings of Black people like Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and recently George Floyd have led many community members to both collectively and individually express opposition “to the systemic use of unreasonable and unnecessary police violence against Black people and have called for police accountability.”
The letter notes that the ACLU-NC “equally condemns and has long advocated against police brutality, racial profiling, and selective enforcement of laws against Black people that results in the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on Black lives.”
Public demonstrations and protesters, however, “constitute an exercise of rights squarely protected by the First Amendment.”
They write: “Their lawful efforts to stop excessive force by law enforcement have been met, at times, with excessive force and now a curfew that improperly curtails their constitutional rights.”
Further, “the curfew noticeably has no exception for some of its most vulnerable community members – unhoused and unsheltered residents. This Order effectively leaves Black people – who comprise a large percentage of unhoused people in Sacramento County – with an even higher likelihood of hostile interactions with police and now the national guard.”
The ACLU argues that if anything the imposition of a curfew—a significant measure of a police state—in response to protests regarding police accountability demonstrates the importance of these protests.
For the ACLU, the order exceeds the state authority since it extends far beyond any emergency it seeks to address.
“The Order specifically states that ‘a majority of the protesters’ continue to act lawfully,” they write and note that “the Order does not state any areas where they may have been looting or vandalism specific to the protests occurred. However, if any looting or vandalism did occur, it occurred in downtown and midtown and potentially one or two isolated regions. Nonetheless, the Order applies throughout the entirety of the City of Sacramento’s 100 square miles, and to nearly all of its 513,000 residents.”
Further, they argue that the order prohibits the speech and assembly for a significant portion of each day it remains in effect.
Indeed they argue that now, more than ever, the “principal function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”
They add, “The Order is not narrowly tailored to the City’s purported concerns such as alleged illegal conduct or geographic areas where property damage or violence is imminently likely to occur.”
The ACLU also notes that this disproportionately impacts unhoused people. James Lee “Faygo” Clark will be directly impacted by the fact that unhoused people are subject to the Order.
He stated, “Once again the City of Sacramento is showing a lack of understanding and consideration concerning local events in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Yet again, the City has opted to put the value of property above the value of human lives and dignity.”
Clark added, “This curfew serves not only is an example of the willingness to use force to against those protesting violence against themselves, but also shows the negligence in which the City is dealing with the unhoused situation.”
The ACLU adds, “Government officials have at their disposal more narrowly tailored law enforcement measures to deal with violent acts – without resorting to trampling everyone’s civil liberties. In response to our demand letter, San Francisco has announced that it will lift its curfew tomorrow.
“We’ve already seen far too many times to recount how over-policing leads to the very kinds of tragic circumstances that are now being protested.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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