Police Violated the Free Speech Rights of Margaret Schucker, 57, Who Required a Chair to Participate in Protest, By Arresting Her For Refusing to Move Her Chair Away from Protest Area
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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) announced today that it is providing legal representation to Margaret Schucker, a 57-year-old disabled Raleigh resident whose right to free speech was violated when police arrested her on Oct. 27 for refusing to move her chair, which she required because of back problems, away from the Occupy Raleigh demonstration in which she was participating.
Schucker was sitting in a chair while protesting Oct. 27 on the public sidewalk along Morgan Street outside the North Carolina State Capitol, where protestors were forced to move after being expelled from the Capitol grounds. Police ordered Schucker to move her chair from the sidewalk and relocate back away from the street, to a bench on the Capitol grounds, where protestors were not allowed to demonstrate. Schucker, who was wearing a blue and white handicapped permit on her chest, told the police that she had back problems and needed the chair to participate in the demonstration. She was not blocking traffic on the sidewalk and had made sure to leave at least three feet of space for passersby, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. When she refused to move her chair, Schucker was arrested for second-degree trespassing.
“I wanted to exercise my free speech rights on the same terms as my fellow demonstrators,” Schucker said. “The only difference was that, because of my chronic lower back pain, I couldn’t stand while demonstrating and had to use a chair. As a disabled person, I have always been very aware that the sidewalk must be kept clear so that everyone may pass. If I had moved to the bench on the Capitol grounds, as the police suggested, I would have been removed from the view of passersby with whom we were trying to engage.”
Schucker is being represented by ACLU-NCLF Cooperating Attorney Scott Holmes, of the Durham law firm of Brock, Payne & Meece, as well as by Katy Parker, Legal Director of ACLU-NCLF.
“It’s disgraceful that Ms. Schucker was arrested simply because she was a disabled person trying to exercise her constitutional right to free speech,” said Katy Parker, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “By ordering her to move away from her fellow demonstrators and their intended targets to an area that demonstrators had previously been banned from using, the police essentially prohibited Margaret from participating in the demonstration, as is her right. She should not have been discriminated against for requiring a chair to participate, especially since she was in no way blocking the sidewalk.”
The ACLU of North Carolina is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving and expanding the guarantees of individual liberty found in the United States Constitution, the North Carolina Constitution, and related federal and state civil rights laws. With more than 7,000 members and supporters throughout the state and an office located in Raleigh, the organization achieves its mission through advocacy, public education, community outreach, and when necessary, litigation. For more information, please visit www.acluofnc.org.