ACLU of Florida Sues Miami Officials for Blocking Human Rights Protest at Free Trade Meeting

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
June 27, 2006 12:00 am

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MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Amnesty International USA, charging that city and police officials prevented members of the human rights organization from exercising their constitutional right to assemble and protest, despite having obtained proper permits.

“Trampling on constitutional rights in order to keep the peace is not a permissible police action,” said Louis M. Jepeway, Jr., a cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Florida’s Greater Miami Chapter. “The police had the duty to protect the public order and at the same time safeguard the constitutional rights of everyone — including Amnesty International’s protest against human rights abuses in the Americas.”

The lawsuit is the sixth in a series of suits brought by the ACLU following police actions that stifled protest activities during the November 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) events in Miami. Today’s ACLU lawsuit charges that the police officers violated Amnesty International’s rights to engage in demonstrations and other expressive activities. While Amnesty International took no position on the FTAA treaty itself, the peaceful protests were planned to bring attention to human rights abuses in the Americas.

“We are members of a peaceful organization attempting to bring attention to important human rights abuses, when our own rights were stomped on by the police,” said Jessica Carvalho Morris of Amnesty International’s Miami Chapter. “We were attempting to protest within the confines of the law. The police must work within those laws, too, and they need to be held accountable when they violate people’s rights.”

According to the lawsuit, members of Amnesty International’s Miami Chapter were scheduled to gather in downtown Miami at approximately 10:00 a.m. on November 20, 2003. Although the group had a permit to assemble, police officers prohibited anyone from gathering or entering Downtown Miami. The officers were acting on directives from Major Louis Battle of the Miami-Dade Police Department and Captain Thomas Cannon (now a Major) of the City of Miami Police Department.

“One of the reasons for requiring a permit is to be able to manage protest activities,” Jepeway said. “Even though protesters complied with the permit process, the police simply prevented them from ever having the chance to voice their opinions.”

The case, Amnesty International USA v. Louis Battle and Thomas Cannon, was filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division. ACLU Cooperating attorneys are Jepeway and Richard K. Houlihan.

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