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Coalition demands curfew charges against Cincinnati protesters be dropped

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Posted at 5:42 PM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 20:35:28-04

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Mass Defense Coalition handed over a motion to the city solicitor’s office Tuesday demanding curfew charges filed against protesters last month be dismissed.

The motion claims the curfew ordered by Mayor John Cranley was unconstitutional and most of the 500 people arrested protested peacefully.

Cranley ordered the curfew after protests over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer turned violent. A bullet struck a police officer’s helmet, and dozens of stores in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine were vandalized.

“Most of us were arrested either at the start of curfew or at 9:30,” said Andrew Watts, a protester. "It’s ridiculous that 30 minutes after an honestly unconstitutional curfew that we’re being charged the same as someone who hits their wife.”

Watts said the first-degree misdemeanor charge “is the same as a DUI, the same as a domestic assault charge,” and carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

“The ask is simple: drop the charges,” Watts said. “Those charges aren’t because people really violated any law.”

The coalition motion claims the curfew was a First Amendment violation.

“It’s clear that their conduct was meant to silence people who were standing up for the movement for Black liberation, people who were standing up against racist policing and brutality,” said attorney Jacqueline Greene, a partner at Friedman & Gilbert.

It also claims the mayor needed city council approval to authorize a curfew.

Last month, the solicitor’s office said it won’t “categorically” drop curfew charges. It offered, on a case-by-case basis, to drop the curfew charge if the person signs a civil liability waiver. It also said people charged can plead down to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor charge that will be expunged, and provided options for diversion or reconciliation.

Those offers only apply to protesters charged only with violating curfew.

Protesters and their attorneys said that's not enough.

“You’re putting a price on somebody exercising the constitutional fundamental right of free speech,” said attorney Louis Sirkin of Santen & Hughes.

Watts agreed.

“I think it’s important to understand it was something that was dropped specifically to stop us from protesting,” Watts said. “The people that are doing this aren’t people that are smashing windows. They aren’t the people that are looting small businesses. We’re people that are protesting George Floyd’s death.”

WCPO 9 News reached out to the solicitor’s office for comment but did not hear back.

Councilmember Betsy Sundermann said protesters should make their arguments in a courtroom.