Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today filed a request in federal court on behalf of activists in Richmond for an injunction ordering the Richmond Police to allow them to hold a May Day parade without having to pay for off-duty police officers.
“Nowhere in the city code does it say that Richmond police have the authority to assess fees on parade organizers,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “The police cannot arbitrarily impose costs on individuals exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Kenneth Yates and other organizers are planning a May Day march through Richmond city streets and submitted a parade permit application on March 21. Although city code requires police to issue or deny the permit within five days, Yates did not receive a response until April 11. At that time, he was told that in order to march, his group would have to pay $294 for two off-duty police officers and two police cars. The group does not have the funds to pay for the officers.
Before filing suit, the ACLU sent a letter to the Richmond Police Department on behalf of the group informing them that the Richmond parade ordinance does not authorize them to require a person to pay for off-duty police in order to march. Additionally, the ACLU said that applying such a requirement without specific guidelines is unconstitutional. The police did not respond to the ACLU’s letter.
“Without clear guidelines, police may be imposing fees on some groups and not on others,” said Glenberg. “We are concerned that police may be chilling free speech in Richmond.”
This issue is not a new one. Last year, May Day parade organizers were told they would have to pay for off-duty officers in order to march. Ultimately, though, the police relented and granted organizers a permit to march in the street without having to pay for off-duty officers.
“Organizers followed the rules and applied for their parade permit just like everyone else,” added Glenberg. “Richmond police cannot just move the goal posts and add another obstacle that is not authorized by law.”
Yates is represented by Glenberg and ACLU of Virginia Dunn Fellow Thomas Fitzpatrick.
A copy of the ACLU’s complaint can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/YatesvNorwoodcomplaint.pdf. A copy of the preliminary injunction memo can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/YatesvNorwoodPImemo.pdf.
Contact: Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, 804-644-8022