September 29, 2003
The ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit today in federal court, challenging the City of Richmond ordinance that determines how permits are granted for marches and parades that occupy city streets. Richmond’s ordinance gives the Chief of Police the authority to decide who will receive permits and to determine the conditions that must be met by those participating in the proposed march or parade.
Although the ordinance states that the Chief of Police may issue rules and regulations regarding marches, no such rules regulations have been adopted, except that applications must be completed and filed 30 days in advance of the date of the proposed event. There are no rules indicating a deadline for the City to deny or grant a permit, what fees are to be imposed, or what other restrictions can be placed on participants.
The lawsuit claims that the ordinance violates the First Amendment right of free speech and assembly because the Chief of Police has unfettered discretion to decide who will be permitted to march and under what conditions. The lawsuit also claims that the requirement for applications to be submitted 30 days before the event is unconstitutional.
“Our problem with the City of Richmond parade ordinance is more about what it doesn’t have than what it has,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “Without any rules about who will receive permits and under what conditions, the implementation of the ordinance is ripe for abuse.”
“Over the years, it seems that we have received more complaints about the Richmond parade ordinance than any other in the state,” added Willis.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Coalition Against the Occupation, Food Not Bombs, Richmond Act Now to Stop the War and End Racism (ANSWER), and Defenders of Freedom, Justice and Equality.
All of the plaintiffs were involved in a march that took place on August 24. Before granting the permit, the organizers were told that they would have to pay for two off duty police officers at $24.00 per hour for a minimum of four hours. The requirement for the payment for a police presence was not part of any rule or regulation, and the police department never explained the reason for it. Ultimately, the police department allowed the march to occur without the parties having to pay for the police officers.
ACLU legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg and attorney Frank M. Feibelman of Richmond represent the plaintiffs. A copy of the complaint is available by email (acluva@acluva.org) or by fax.

Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022