Protesters Against Sweatshop Merchandise Outside Pirates Baseball Stadium Sue to Reclaim First Amendment Rights

April 9, 2002 12:00 am

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PITTSBURGH-The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of four political activists who were arrested last month for distributing leaflets criticizing the Pittsburgh Pirates for selling merchandise made by Third World sweatshop labor.

According to the ACLU lawsuit, the protesters were arrested while distributing leaflets on public sidewalks near PNC park, the Pirates’ home stadium.

“”I don’t think Allegheny County residents realized that when they bought the Pirates a stadium, they were also giving away their rights to free speech on the city’s sidewalks,”” said Witold Walczak, Director of the ACLU of Greater Pittsburgh and an attorney in the case. Today’s lawsuit was filed, he said, “”to re-claim Pittsburgh’s streets and sidewalks for the people.””

Since the City of Pittsburgh and the Sports and Exhibition Authority have refused to provide assurance that the protesters will not be arrested again when they plan to resume their political activity before this Saturday’s game, the ACLU is asking the court to issue an order before Saturday to protect the activists.

The case was filed on behalf of Kenneth Miller, Joel Waller, Kevin Mayle, Michelle Gaffey and their organization, Industrial Workers of the World.

According to the ACLU lawsuit, on March 2, 2002, the group was engaged in protest when they were told first by stadium security and then by Pittsburgh police officers that the sidewalks surrounding PNC Park were “”private,”” and that they could not distribute leaflets, collect petition signatures, or engage in other political activities on the sidewalks abutting the stadium.

When they refused, Pittsburgh police officers arrested them for “”defiant trespass”” based, in significant part, on warnings given to them while they attempted to distribute leaflets on the sidewalks surrounding PNC Park.

But as the ACLU noted in legal papers, at the same time that police were restricting the activities of the sweatshop protesters, they allowed another person in the same location to distribute leaflets promoting an exhibit of baby penguins at the Pittsburgh Aviary.

“”The areas in question are owned by the defendants, government entities, and as such are traditional public forums,”” the ACLU said in legal papers. “”The activists have a First Amendment right to use the City’s streets and sidewalks, including those around PNC Park, to engage in time-honored political activities.””

The case is being heard today in U. S. District Court in Pittsburgh. A decision is expected by this Saturday. The plaintiffs are represented by Walczak of the ACLU and Michael Healey of the law firm Healey, Davidson & Hornack.

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