In the wake of police interference with two peaceful protests at a restaurant on Bourbon Street last month, the ACLU today urged Superintendent Warren Riley of the New Orleans Police Department to institute mandatory First Amendment training for all officers.
On October 23 and October 29, 2009, picketers in front of Tony Moran's Restaurant on Bourbon Street were threatened with arrest and prevented from engaging in their legal right to distribute leaflets and hold signs. NOPD officers on both occasions broke the law by interfering with the First Amendment right to engage in peaceful protest. ACLU Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman said, "The NOPD has a duty to protect those engaging in legal activity. When people aren't breaking the law, they are entitled to the protection of the police, not to police persecution. NOPD officers must be trained to know the difference, so that they don't continue to disrupt activities that are legal."
In recent years, the ACLU has learned of multiple incidents of NOPD interference with First Amendment rights. A pending case, Griffith v. City of New Orleans, addresses the wrongful arrest of two men for videotaping police misconduct on a public street. Other lawsuits have been filed within the past few years. Esman continued, "Because of the history of litigation over First Amendment violations, we know that the NOPD is aware that its officers are not adequately trained. It's time for the police to be instructed in basic, fundamental rights so that they stop breaking the law when their job is to enforce it."
A copy of the open letter may be found here.