The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the National Lawyers Guild announced today that they have reached a settlement with the City of Ferndale to dismiss charges against local peace protesters picketing on the corner of Woodward and Nine Mile Rd.
For the last four years, protesters have gathered every Monday evening on the public sidewalk and held up signs protesting U.S. foreign policy. Their signs have urged drivers to honk if they agree. Recently, Ferndale began cracking down by threatening protesters with arrest if they continued even though there have been no complaints about noise or accidents at the intersection.
“The freedom to protest government policies is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The police cannot arrest citizens for engaging in the time-honored tradition of urging drivers to honk in support of their sidewalk protest or picket.”
To protest the Ferndale Police Department’s new no-honking policy, some protesters, such as Nancy Goedert, 73, and Victor Kittila, 55, held up signs that read “Police Say Don’t Honk for Peace.” As a result they were charged with misdemeanors. The Ferndale police have also issued tickets to those who have honked in support of the protesters.
“We are concerned that Ferndale is selectively enforcing the honking law against peace activists,” said Deborah Choly, the volunteer National Lawyers Guild lawyer who represented Goedert and Katilla. “The law was certainly not enforced during the Dream Cruise or during demonstrations protesting anything other than the war.”
In August, the ACLU of Michigan and the National Lawyers Guild sent a letter to the city urging the dismissal of charges against the protesters. Today, an agreement has been reached between all parties. The City has agreed to dismiss the charge against Kittila and Goedert and acknowledges the right to display signs that say “Police Say Don't Honk.” In addition, the City will return the protesters’ signs as well as mug shot and fingerprints.
In return, the protesters will sign a release stating that they will not sue for money damages against the city and will not carry or display signs encouraging motorists to honk unless a court rules that they have a right to do so or the state law is amended. The settlement would permit both Goedert and Kittila to bring a federal lawsuit asking a court to declare unconstitutional Ferndale’s policy of arresting activists who encourage honking in support of their cause.
“Although, it was important that criminal charges against us be dismissed,” said Goedert, the mother of former Ferndale Mayor Charles "Chuck" Goedert. “This issue is not yet resolved since the city has not acknowledged that protestors have a right to urge motorists to honk. I look forward to having a court decide this matter.”
To read the letter sent to the City of Ferndale, go to http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/ferndaleletter.pdf