St. Louis—The ACLU of Missouri and the First Amendment Clinic at Washington University in St. Louis filed suit this morning against the City of Florissant challenging three unconstitutional ordinances that give officers unfettered power and are arbitrarily applied to violate protesters’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights while protesting for police accountability.
In the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of law enforcement, Americans took to the streets to call for justice and advocate for police reforms. While protests were ongoing on June 2, 2020, Florissant police officer Joshua Smith drove his unmarked police SUV into a young man he suspected of a crime. After Smith had hit the man with his vehicle, he then proceeded to beat him as other officers failed to intervene.
When video of the incident surfaced that disproved Officer Smith’s narrative about the incident, protesters proceeded to gather in front of the Florissant Police Department, calling for justice and accountability daily. As protests have continued, police officers have aggressively confronted protesters, by making shows of force, donning riot gear, and using chemical munitions against nonviolent protesters without warning, and arresting protesters for purported ordinance violations.
Officers have deployed the three vague ordinances in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, abusing their power in an attempt to incite fear while squelching constitutionally protected free speech and assembly, along with the right to due process.
In fact, using these ordinances, officers have repeatedly threatened to arrest—or arrested—people who have committed no crime and posed no threat to officers or public safety. On multiple occasions, the plaintiffs’ speech has been chilled by witnessing (or experiencing) arrests by officers ostensibly based on unlawful assemblies that did not exist.
“Time and again Florissant’s response to protests demanding accountability from the police is to send out the police to silence their critics,” said Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri. “This case targets the unconstitutional ordinances that Florissant has crafted to enable a police crackdown on dissent.”