After ACLU Action, Police Dismiss Citations Against Hundreds of Electronic Music Concertgoers in Wisconsin

Affiliate: ACLU of Wisconsin
January 16, 2003 12:00 am

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MILWAUKEE — The City of Racine today agreed to drop all charges against 442 people who were ticketed at a benefit electronic music concert simply for being in proximity to a drug arrest on the premises — a prosecution the American Civil Liberties Union called a first in the “war on drugs.”

“The ACLU urges the City of Racine to respect the First Amendment rights of electronic music attendees in the future,” said Micabil Diaz, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, which represented the concertgoers. “We also applaud the hundreds of attendees who defended their constitutional rights. The ACLU will continue to remain vigilant in the defense of the rights of individuals to exercise their freedom to attend and perform in electronic music events.

Graham Boyd, Director of the national ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project, said the raid marked a first in the so-called war on drugs. “Recently, the ACLU successfully challenged the arrest of innocent business owners simply for promoting electronic music concerts, but this is the first time that an audience was targeted. We sincerely hope it will be the last. However,” he noted, “with the reintroduction in Congress of an anti-Rave bill that targets music promoters, we are likely to see more, not fewer, unconstitutional attempts at prosecution of innocent people.”

“Electronic music concerts are a legitimate cultural event just like rock concerts, art exhibitions and film screenings, and are an important outlet for youth culture today,” Boyd said. “This kind of raid is tantamount to targeting rock concerts in the 1960s or jazz clubs in the 1920s because some people were using drugs or drinking liquor.”

Last November, the Racine police raided an electronic music concert held by the Uptown Theater Group, Inc. to aid its efforts to restore an historic landmark theater in downtown Racine. The police department had claimed that the mere presence of these concertgoers in a location in which four persons were arrested on drug charges violated the city’s “inmates of a disorderly house” ordinance. The citations were originally issued with fines of $968 each.

The ACLU of Wisconsin, with the assistance of volunteer attorney Erik R. Guenther, an associate in the Racine firm of Hostak, Henzl & Bichler, S.C., challenged the citations. The ACLU charged that ordinance violated the First Amendment right to freedom of association since it was imposed on individuals whose only actions were peaceably assembling to hear electronic music.

“The ACLU and I welcome the city’s decision to dismiss these citations, and their commitment to amend this ordinance to ensure that an incident like this does not occur again,” said Guenther. “The city’s decision to provide guidelines to police officers in future enforcement of this ordinance will help ensure that the Constitutional rights of attendees and performers at electronic music events are respected in the future.”

The ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project and volunteer attorney James Shellows of Milwaukee provided additional support in this matter.

For more information on the government’s war on raves, go to /DrugPolicy/DrugPolicylist.cfm?c=185

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