After nearly a month of tense standoffs in Sacramento's Cesar Chavez Plaza, Occupy Sacramento activists — seeking to thwart the city's insistence on clearing the park nightly — moved the battle to another venue: the federal courts.
A trio of lawyers — arguing the protesters' First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly are being violated — filed suit Tuesday against the city of Sacramento, the city manager and the city's parks director on behalf of 34 named plaintiffs, including activist Cindy Sheehan.
Local activists, emulating protesters across the country, have sought to "occupy" the park around the clock. Unlike what's happened at most of the protests patterned after the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Sacramento Police Department has cleared the park nightly – arresting those who don't comply.
To date 83 people have been arrested for failing to leave the park at 11 p.m. on weeknights or midnight on Friday and Saturday.
By giving the city parks director and chief of police authority to extend the hours of the park, the city has created an unworkable ordinance that allows city leaders to create "favored and disfavored speech," said attorney Mark Merin, one of three attorneys behind the lawsuit.
"How do we know they are not suppressing some speech?" Merin asked, addressing reporters Tuesday outside Sacramento's federal courthouse.
The plaintiffs also seek a temporary retraining order and a preliminary injunction to stop the arrests.
City officials declined to comment about the lawsuit. They have previously maintained that the park curfew falls within the city's legal right to limit gatherings, political or otherwise.
An aide to Mayor Kevin Johnson said he was traveling and not available for comment.
Legal scholars say the case may hinge on whether Occupy Sacramento participants can prove that they are being singled out.
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