SAN FRANCISCO – Across the Bay Area, people of all ages and races have taken to the streets by the tens of thousands to protest the vicious racist murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died on the pavement in Minneapolis with a policeman’s knee in his neck – triggering global demonstrations.
Most protests have been peaceful, calling for long-overdue police reforms to end the never-ending cycle of black men and women being brutalized and dehumanized at the hands of those sworn to protect all of us. There were others however – it must be stressed, a minority – who committed violent acts.
In response, some cities and counties took panicked, hasty and unconstitutional measures. They instituted curfews locking down 5.5 million residents – this on top of a shelter in place order due to the COVID-19 pandemic that already curtailed individual liberties due to public health concerns.
Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California sent a letter to the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Napa as well as the cities of Palo Alto and San Francisco, demanding that they immediately rescind or substantially restrict the curfew orders that they imposed over the last three days. These sweeping measures, allowing police to arrest anyone outside from the early evening hours until 5 a.m., violate the First Amendment right to free speech and assembly.
These vague, open ended curfews are not only the wrong way of preventing violent offshoots from peaceful protests. They further inflame the situation by giving police wide discretion to arrest and harass individuals exercising their first amendment rights – as well as the media documenting this historic moment. We are outraged by the tear gas, rubber bullets and other tactics that have been used against peaceful protesters and we stand in solidarity with them.
“Their lawful efforts to stop excessive force by law enforcement have been met, at times, with excessive force and now a curfew that improperly curtails their constitutional rights,” said Shilpi Agarwal, a senior attorney at the ACLU of Northern California Foundation. “If anything, the imposition of a curfew, a signature measure of a police state, in direct response to protests regarding police accountability, demonstrates the importance of these protests.”
Government officials have at their disposal more narrowly tailored law enforcement measures to deal with violent acts – without resorting to trampling everyone’s civil liberties. In response to our demand letter, San Francisco has announced that it will lift its curfew tomorrow.
We’ve already seen far too many times to recount how over-policing leads to the very kinds of tragic circumstances that are now being protested.