UPDATE: On Feb. 7, U.S. District Court Judge Leighton denied the ACLU's motion for a Temporary Restraining Order. The march took place without incident on the following day, with 400 marchers on the sidewalk instead of the street as they had wanted to be. The ACLU is considering proceeding with the case to challenge the City's requirement of a $1,000 payment for police escort.
The American Civil Liberties Union today is seeking a Temporary Restraining Order against the City of Tacoma to enable a political action group to obtain a permit for a march. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Tacoma Leonard Peltier Support Group (TLPSG), a group that works to advance the rights of Native Americans. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to challenge the City's requirement that the group pay a minimum of $1,000 for police escorts as a condition for issuance of a parade permit. TLPSG plans to hold its annual march to the federal courthouse in downtown Tacoma on Saturday, Feb. 8.
TLPSG has staged a political march in Tacoma each year for the past decade without incident. The number of participants in these marches usually numbered less than 100 people and proceeded entirely on public sidewalks. However, this year the parade is sponsored by four additional organizations including the Seattle LPSG, Native People's Alliance Friends and Allies, Native Coalition, and the Northwest American Indian Movement. Because TLPSG anticipated that the number of participants in this year's event would be significantly higher, Arthur Miller, the coordinator of the TLPSG, submitted an application for a parade permit so that the group could march in the street. The City Clerk informed him that the permit would not be issued unless the group agreed to pay a minimum of $1,000 for police escorts. TLPSG, like many other political organizations that have limited financial resources, cannot afford to pay the high fee.
"The right to express our political views in a parade is one of this nation's highest values," said ACLU Legal Program Director Julya Hampton. "Charging fees for police escorts will effectively bar everyone but the financially well-off from protesting on Tacoma's public streets."
The TLPSG is a political organization that seeks the release of the imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier. It is funded entirely by donations and relies exclusively on volunteers to pursue its organizational mission. TLPSG operates on an annual budget of approximately $500.
In previous years, when the group has held its annual march on the sidewalk, the police would arrive early and station two or three officers in cars and two officers on motorcycles along side the marchers. The officers would accompany the group for the entire course of the march. The police officers were assigned to those events regardless of the fact that TLPSG had not requested them. Now that the group wishes to move its march to the street to accommodate a larger crowd, the City asserts that it cannot provide those same services, saying " … it is inappropriate to use public tax dollars to confer a private benefit on a select group of citizens while at the same time compromising the public safety of all citizens."
"Providing a police escort for people exercising their free speech rights is part of a local government's responsibilities in a democratic society. The City cannot prevent a group from holding a peaceful political march by charging a prohibitive fee," said the ACLU's Julya Hampton.
Attorney James Donohue of the firm Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe and Gail Gove, ACLU public interest fellow, are handling the case for the ACLU.