Monday, May 29, 2006

NOLA: Second-line fees are too high, ACLU says

New Orelans Times-Picayune

Second-line fees too high, ACLU says
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana on Tuesday called on New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley to rescind what it said were recent sharp increases in the fees the department charges to organizations holding second-line parades in the city.

Because of violence among spectators at two parades this year that left one person dead and several others wounded, the NOPD has said it will raise the "escort fees" it imposes on groups seeking to parade or demonstrate, the ACLU said.

The new fees the department has said it will charge to the social aid and pleasure clubs that organize second-line parades -- between $3,750 and $4,400 for one-band, one-division parades -- are so high they will prevent the clubs from holding future parades, infringing on their First Amendment rights, the ACLU said.

In a letter to Riley, attorneys Carol Kolinchak and Katie Schwartzmann said the new fees are "unreasonable and excessive." They asked him to reduce the fees by Monday to a level "reasonably necessary for facilitating traffic flow resulting from the parades."

Otherwise, they warned, they intend to file a lawsuit.

Riley could not be reached for comment.

Kolinchak and Schwartzmann said members of social aid and pleasure clubs have held several meetings with Riley to try to have the fees lowered, but no agreement was reached.

Despite violent incidents, the city ordinance letting the police decide what fees to impose on parading groups "is constitutionally problematic," said Schwartzmann, the staff attorney for the local ACLU.

The ordinance "allows the police chief enormous discretion in deciding when to assess escort fees, and how much to assess," she said. "Courts have held that this discretion is unconstitutional. In this instance the police chief is imposing extra fees due to violence in the crowd at some second-line events. Imposing fees because of the behavior of a hostile audience is constitutionally impermissible."

On March 19 a gunman opened fire on a group of spectators along a second-line parade route in Central City, killing one man and injuring another, only to be stopped when a New Orleans police officer shot him in the leg. Christopher Smith, 19, died from multiple gunshot wounds.

Police said Jasmine Sartain opened fire on parade-goers near the corner of Washington Avenue and South Derbigny Street who had gathered to watch a jazz funeral for a former member of the Single Men Social Aid and Pleasure Club, followed by a second-line that included the Cultural Tradition Task Force. Sartain's mother said the shooting stemmed from a feud "over a young lady."

Two months earlier, violence erupted at a much larger second-line procession that attracted thousands of people, including hurricane evacuees who had come back to the city for a day of celebration. Three people were wounded Jan. 15 in two shootings on Orleans Avenue between North Claiborne Avenue and North Broad Street.

The shootings broke out near the end point of a procession that started in front of the Backstreet Cultural Museum on St. Claude Avenue.

At the time, many supporters of the second-line processions, a cherished cultural tradition in the black community, decried the violence, saying second-lines have traditionally been peaceful affairs that bring the community together.

"This is a time of healing for the city of New Orleans," said Kolinchak, an outside attorney working with the ACLU. "The fees being imposed by the chief have resulted in the cancellation of some second-line parades, and many more will have to cancel if the policy is not amended. This is a time when we need our cultural traditions more than ever, and we hope that the chief will agree."

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