Occupy Oakland Protestor Settles Federal Civil Law Suit of Disorderly Conduct (CA Penal Code 647(c))

A 50-year-old attorney (name withheld in order to protect the privacy) was violently shoved across the top of her bicycle and fell to the ground during an Occupy Oakland protest in January of 2012.  After already having won a suit against the Oakland City Council for a payment of $27,000, she was able to settle a federal civil lawsuit involving Oakland law enforcement officials that were part of the skirmish line, naming an officer as her main aggressor (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused).  Video footage of the incident, and her subsequent arrest, makes it clear that she was attempting to comply with the police line, but was simply not moving fast enough for their taste.  The video also supports her claim of having been shoved in the back from behind.  She was taken in on charges of resisting arrest and obstructing movement on the street.

If her story has at least one thing to teach us, it is that citizens must understand their rights when it comes to peaceful protesting.   According to both the California Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, free expression and free speech are your rights.  However, many protestors have faced the many challenges of properly and lawfully organizing their endeavors.  For example, most cities require that you obtain a permit.  And, while the government cannot keep you from protesting in public areas like streets, sidewalks, parks, etc. they may consider your actions compromising to regular traffic or safety.

She, for example, was arrested for disorderly conduct (CA Penal Code 647(c)) (CA PC 647 is a catch-all for disorderly conduct and vagrancy), which some say is part of a set of laws written specifically for officers to use against protestors.  It is a misdemeanor charge and the language is clear: any “person who willfully and maliciously obstructs the free movement of any person on any street, sidewalk, or other public place or on or in any place open to the public” is guilty of this crime.  All charges against her were eventually dropped, but her $40,000 win  may discourage such behavior on the part of the police in the future.