ACLU threatens lawsuit after Seattle denies permit to CHOP celebration event

Jun 11, 2021, 7:19 AM


A sign on a barricade reads "Welcome to CHOP," on June 20, 2020, at the intersection of 10th Ave. and Pine St. at the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The city is trying to shut down an event that wants to commemorate CHOP and celebrate Black culture this weekend. Earlier this week, Seattle Parks and Recreation denied the permit for the event organized by nonprofit CHOP Art that’s scheduled to start Friday, June 11, at Cal Anderson Park.

But it has the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington saying – not so fast. They and the Public Defender Association say what the city is doing is unconstitutional.

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Event organizer and president of CHOP Art, Mark Anthony, says the event is not a protest but a celebration.

“I want people to come out and celebrate the freedom of African Americans, celebrate freedom for all and celebrate Black culture,” Anthony said.

Anthony was one of the leaders during the CHOP protest last summer. He said the City of Seattle reached out to him at the end of last year to help reactivate Cal Anderson Park.

“They reached out to me so I could provide positive programming centered around art that would promote diversity,” Anthony said. “It seemed like a great opportunity for us to hold our first event live and in person.”

But after submitting the paperwork for a CHOP anniversary and Juneteenth celebration, the city denied the permit three days before the event.

“Complete shock,” Anthony said.

He said he had been meeting with the city monthly for more than half a year and even more often in recent months.

In a statement, Seattle Parks and Recreation cited the acts of violence during the CHOP protest last summer, which included two fatal shootings:

“We will not be issuing a permit for this event as we have heard from community members expressing concerns that any events celebrating or commemorating the events that occurred at Cal Anderson in summer of 2020 would be disturbing or even traumatic to the community.”

Anthony said as soon as he received the reasoning, he believed his freedom of speech was being violated. He said the event will still happen as scheduled, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

“The idea that any number of concerned citizens could take away my rights is absolutely crazy to me,” Anthony said.

The city added:

“In sensitivity to these concerns, and with caution because of the acts of violence that occurred at the park and the surrounding area last summer and fall, as well as the significant restoration and cleanup efforts that were needed to restore the park, SPR is using higher-than-usual safety and security standards to evaluate all permit requests at Cal Anderson.”

The city’s reasons for denying the permit immediately got the attention of the ACLU of Washington and the Public Defender Association.

“It’s such a clear violation of the first amendment that I was pretty shocked. You can’t deny a permit based on the content of the event,” said Lisa Nowlin, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington.

In a joint letter from both groups to the city, they call the permit denial “unconstitutional” and ask the city to reverse the decision.

The letter makes clear that if that doesn’t happen, “we may need to take emergency legal action.”

“This kind of first amendment activity is protected at the highest level,” said Prachi Dave, Policy and Advocacy Director with the Public Defender Association.

Anthony said the event will have live music, food, and a lot of art. He added there will be security and said people who intend to cause violence are not welcome.

The city did not respond to a request for comment about the letter from the ACLU and Public Defender Association.

By Deedee Sun, KIRO 7 News

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ACLU threatens lawsuit after Seattle denies permit to CHOP celebration event