ACLU of Louisiana Challenges Discriminatory Parade Fees
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Important African American Cultural Tradition at Risk
NEW ORLEANS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana announced today the filing of a federal lawsuit to challenge excessive escort fees applied to Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and second-line parade groups in New Orleans.
“A unique African American cultural and historical tradition will be taxed out of existence without relief from the court,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. “This tradition is important for the rebirth of New Orleans and for those still struggling with the loss of family, unity, home and normalcy.”
A city ordinance allows the police chief wide discretion in charging groups seeking to parade or demonstrate. Earlier this year, fees were raised for second-line dance processions and jazz funerals from around $1,200 to $3, 760, in addition to a $10,000 bond required by state law. Other groups continue to be charged lower rates or no fees at all.
In May, the ACLU sent public demand letters on behalf of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force to Police Chief Warren Riley requesting a change in the fees. Despite a letter from a city attorney advising that they were “reviewing” the matter, the fees have not been modified. Because second-line parade season has begun in earnest, the ACLU is seeking emergency relief in federal court.
“The city code allows the police chief enormous discretion in deciding when to assess police escort fees and how much to assess,” said ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Katie Schwartzmann. “Courts have held that this discretion is unconstitutional. Although the police chief cites extra costs due to violence in the crowd at some second-line events, imposing fees because of the behavior of a hostile audience is constitutionally impermissible.”
The ACLU represents Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force and other named plaintiffs affected by the ordinances and state law. The suit names as defendants the City of New Orleans, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Chief Riley and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. Cooperating attorney Carol Kolinchak and Schwartzmann represent the plaintiffs.
The complaint is available at: www.laaclu.org/SocialAid_Complaint.pdf.
The ACLU’s May 16, 2006 letter to Chief Riley is available at www.laaclu.org/2ndLineDemandLtr.pdf.
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