LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A local lawyer on Monday evening asked a Louisville judge to issue a restraining order blocking the Louisville Metro Police department from implementing new restrictions on protests, arguing police are now violating state law and the constitution.
In fact, attorney David Mour said officers who enforce part of the policy prohibiting protesters from being on public streets would themselves be breaking the law by committing official misconduct, which is a misdemeanor.
A police spokeswoman said the protest marches and caravans, ongoing for more than two months, had become a safety risk, and violators could be cited or arrested. Police referenced a state law regarding obstructing a highway.
But Mour filed a lawsuit in Jefferson Circuit Court on behalf of a group called the F.I.R.M. Initiative, arguing the policy violates existing state law and is a First Amendment violation that effectively bans protesting.
“Without free speech and the right to assemble, i.e., to protest, our democracy cannot survive,” Mour wrote in the suit.
Under the law cited by police, citizens can be charged with obstructing a roadway only if they make a street “impassable,” according to the suit.
The statute says "no person shall be convicted ... solely because of a gathering of persons to hear him speak or otherwise communicate or solely because of being a member of such a gathering."
In an interview, Mour said the law clearly allows people to march on a public roadway as long as the entire road isn’t blocked for traffic.
Police “are trying to enforce something they have no authority to enforce,” he said. “They have created a blanket prohibition against marching in the streets.”
Banning protesting in the streets is a violation of first-degree official misconduct by police, according to the suit, in part because an officer citing or arresting a citizen would be taking “unauthorized” action.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Monday supported what police have said is the stricter enforcement of existing laws, saying the crackdown is needed to prevent “unnecessary interaction” between police and protesters.
“The focus, obviously, is how to we continue to have safe protests?" he said. "LMPD increased its presence last night to make sure both protesting could be safe, and people, citizens could be safe as well. So we just call on everybody again: Exercise your First Amendment rights to protest. Do so in a peaceful manner so that we can have an orderly community."
Fischer said no one’s First Amendment rights are being stifled and that the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office reviewed the rules before releasing them over the weekend.
LMPD posted on its social media that more strict enforcement of the rules was necessary because the actions of some protesters are escalating and becoming more aggressive.
The changes came after LMPD officers made 12 protest-related arrests on Saturday when, according to police, protesters blocked roads and surrounded vehicles that tried to avoid the demonstration.
In the lawsuit, Mour said police, not protesters, have “fostered a culture of fear and violence, aggression and brutality” and instigated confrontations.
“To say that LMPD since the protest began in Louisville in late May 2020 has taken a page from the Chicago Police from the summer of 1968 would be an understatement,” according to the suit, which argued the department has “come to resemble a military force occupying a foreign country.”
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