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ACLU Sounds Alarm: LA Council Free Speech Restrictions

by Derek Gilna

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech to all Americans, but apparently the Los Angeles, California City Council and the Los Angeles Police Department(LAPD) feel that their compliance with that core citizen protection is optional. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California has reported that the LAPD has been detaining and arresting its citizens who speak more than 20 seconds overtime at L.A. city council hearings, in probable violation of the First Amendment.

On October 25, 2017,  the council introduced an ordinance that appears to be aimed especially at those individuals at public meetings who voice criticisms against the LAPD for its policies and practices, making that "an arrestable offense to violate any posted rules of public facilities." This proposed ordinance would apparently give the LAPD the authority to arrest its own critics at public meetings and charge them with trespassing, chilling criticism and violating First Amendment rights of expression.

In response, the ACLU has started a petition objecting to the proposed ordinance, and according to Melanie Ochoa, ACLU Southern California staff attorney. who posted a letter to both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles city council members, asking that they "reject the proposed ordinance ... although styled as a public safety ordinance, it would do nothing to improve public safety.”

The ACLU argues, citing statistics from the Guardian, that LAPD had  more "officer related fatalities" compared to other large cities. It also noted that the “rate of fatal encounters” was higher in L.A. than in either Chicago or New York last year.

According to the ACLU, “Part of the duty of public officials is to bear the brunt of the public’s displeasure as well as expressions of gratitude and satisfaction. City Council’s irritation is not a public safety threat, and the serious consequences of criminal law should be limited to conduct that actually poses a risk to the safety of others.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, Melina Abdullah. of Black Lives Matter and a college professor. was removed from several board of police commissioners meetings in 2016 An LAPD spokesman acknowledged that she "was removed from the room by officers and later arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest.”

According to the ACLU, she “was arrested for speaking 20 seconds over the 2-minute public comment limit.” However, the ACLU said, she was not charged with a crime, "because they had violated no law.  This ordinance seeks to change that."

The ACLU also indicated that in addition to First Amendment concerns, it is concerned about potential selective enforcement if the proposed ordinance takes effect.  


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