The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today issued a demand letter to police superintendent Warren Riley regarding the amount of fees being charged for Second Line parades in New Orleans. Pursuant to a city ordinance the police chief is allowed to impose "escort fees" on groups seeking to parade or demonstrate. The police department has stated that it will charge Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs between $3,760.00 and $4,400.00 for one-band/ one-division Second Line parades, due to violence in the crowd at two Second Line events. These new fees are so high that they will prevent the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs from holding future parades, infringing on the First Amendment rights of the members of the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs.
"The New Orleans ordinance is constitutionally problematic," said Katie Schwartzmann, staff attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana. "It allows the police chief enormous discretion in deciding when to assess escort fees, and how much to assess. Courts have held that this discretion is unconstitutional. In this instance the police chief is imposing extra fees due to violence in the crowd at some Second Line events. Imposing fees because of the behavior of a hostile audience is constitutionally impermissible."
The ACLU letter, signed by cooperating attorney Carol Kolinchak and staff attorney Katie Schwartzmann, asks that Superintendent Riley agree to stop imposing the fees immediately, and gives him one week to respond to the request before litigation may commence.
"This is a time of healing for the city of New Orleans," say ACLU cooperating attorney Carol Kolinchak. "The fees being imposed by the Chief have resulted in the cancellation of some Second Line parades, and many more will have to cancel if the policy is not amended. This is a time when we need our cultural traditions more than ever, and we hope that the Chief will agree."
The Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs have held individual meetings with Superintendent Riley over the course of the last several months in an attempt to have the fees lowered, but no agreement on the fees could be reached.
To read the demand letter, click here