U.S. News


Judge Declares Ferguson Police's '5-Second Rule' Unlawful

Police in Ferguson, Missouri, have largely told protesters to keep moving. A judge says that's an unconstitutional violation of the right to protest.
Posted at 2:46 PM, Oct 07, 2014

Keep moving or get arrested. Those were the police orders in Ferguson, Missouri as protestors marched the streets in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

And it was those orders which prompted the ACLU to bring a case against law enforcement agencies — citing a violation of First Amendment rights.

The issue in question is law enforcement agencies' use of a so-called "five-second rule," meaning protestors couldn't stay still for more than five seconds. In other instances, protestors were forced to just walk slowly instead of staying put.

Police say it was a tactic for enforcing Missouri's "refusal to disperse" statute, which says a person can be arrested when refusing to obey orders to disperse while "present at the scene of an unlawful assembly, or at the scene of a riot."

But it turns out the statute doesn't apply to peaceful protestors — at least not according to one federal judge.

The judge's ruling reads"The keep-moving policy ... prohibited citizens from peacefully assembling on the public sidewalks. Although the state has a valid interest in maintaining order on its streets and sidewalks and in preventing violence by crowds, this interest is not sufficient to apply such a blanket rule to people assembling peacefully."

Even so, when it comes to regulating expressions of free speech, it should be noted the government can restrict the time, place and manner of the protests, and the court ruling only applies to the "keep-moving rule."

Police tactics involving tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters have largely been labeled as an excessive use of force by the public — heightened by the shooting of Michael Brown, which many believe was the result of a corrupt police force. 

Protestors in support of Brown have gone both ways in Ferguson. One organized event to block I-70 resulted in chaos. Police say many were arrested when the demonstrations turned violent.

KMOV: "You have to make a point. And the point being, you have to stop business as usual in order for the people in power to pay attention to the issues that are of importance."

But other demonstrations have been peaceful, free of the violent clashes seen before involving tear gas and pepper spray between police and protesters. (Video via The New York Times)

KTVI: "I think sometimes we do have to fight for what we believe in. We don't want to fight, we don't want violence there, we don't necessarily need violence, but you do need to be heard."

Both the city of Ferguson and the Ferguson Police Department have not commented on the recent ruling. The Missouri State Highway Patrol did say the ruling allows both the protesters to exercise their right to peacefully assemble while also allowing police officers to appropriately protect the public.

This video includes images from Getty Images.