Police harassing anti-war protestors

Pittsburgh police were issuing citations and arresting anti-war protesters for sitting or lying on a sidewalk even when they do not block traffic.

Court/Assoc.: Federal Court, Western District

Attorneys/Firms: Vic Walczak (ACLU-PA); Michael Healey & Doug McKechnie (Healey & Hornack, P.C.)

On September 18, 2007, the ACLU-PA filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) asking the court to issue an emergency injunction to stop Pittsburgh police from issuing citations and arresting anti-war protesters for sitting or lying on a sidewalk even when they do not block traffic.

On September 4 POG began a four-week, round-the-clock vigil in front of the Army recruiting office on Forbes Ave in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood. The protesters, several of whom are fasting, are holding anti-war signs, distributing leaflets and discussing America's involvement in Iraq with passersby. Protesters have used a 5' x 15' rectangular area of the sidewalk, strategically selected to avoid obstructing pedestrians or people entering nearby storefronts, to rest, either by sitting, lying down and even sleeping.

On September 20, 2007, U. S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti entered an order, agreed to by the parties, that gives the protesters two areas of the sidewalk, on either side of the Armed Services recruiting station, where they can sit (including on chairs), prop up signs on the sidewalk and even sleep. The agreement will hopefully relieve the protesters of the police harassment, citations and arrests they have suffered the past two weeks.

The underlying issue of whether protesters have the right to sit down and sleep on a sidewalk, if part of a protest and if not completely blocking the passageway, is constitutionally protected remains unresolved. The parties will discuss the matter until November 1 and if an agreement cannot be reached the case will continue on that issue.

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