City of Coatesville Attempts Shutdown of End Cash Bail Rally, Says Organizers

RallyImage by Orna Wachman

COATESVILLE, PA — Chester County Stands Up, The Party for Socialism and Liberation Chester County, and the Downingtown Community Focus Project have planned a rally to demand an end to the use of cash bail in Chester County on April 10th, 2021 at 2 pm in Ash Park, Coatesville, PA.

The rally organizers state that after the rally was announced, the City of Coatesville, in an attempt to suppress constitutionally-protected political speech, contacted the organizers and stated that the rally could not proceed.

Chester County Stands Up, The Party for Socialism and Liberation Chester County, and the Downingtown Community Focus Project have released a statement in response:

“In a blatantly illegal attempt by local authorities to suppress Constitutionally protected free speech activity around an issue of deep concern to the public, the City Manager of Coatesville PA is trying to shut down a peaceful rally to End Cash Bail on April 10 in Ash Park. On March 29, 2021, Chester County Stands Up, in conjunction with the Chester County Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Downingtown Community Focus Project, announced a peaceful rally to end the use of cash bail in ChesCo, to be held on April 10th in Ash Park, Coatesville PA. Almost as soon as we published an event page for our rally, Councilmember Nydea Graves, a member of CCSU, received an email from the Coatesville City Manager which raised objections to it. The city manager claims that a permit is required for free assembly and speech and that this activity qualifies as a ‘special event’ under city code. Free speech and assembly under a political rally to End Cash Bail is not a special event, but an exercise of Constitutionally protected political speech.

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“The political rally is to seek an end to the arbitrary and harmful practice of assigning a cash bail. This oppressive practice of demanding cash payments to release defendants from jail means that county residents who are accused of a crime but are unable to pay for their release are unjustly imprisoned, forced to miss work, school, and childcare, and are denied the full ability to prepare their defense. This regressive tactic has already started to be phased out in many municipalities, such as nearby Philadelphia, and was recently abolished completely in Illinois. We believe it is high time for Chester County to lead on this issue and end this barbaric practice for good.

“We understand the Manager’s view to be that our rally is a Special Event, as defined by City Code, and requires a Special Event permit for which the application deadline has passed, and the issuance of which is currently suspended until April 25th. We, the organizers, strenuously oppose this attempt by the city government to suppress the exercise of free speech and lawful political assembly.

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“We disagree that our rally even meets the definition of a Special Event, as defined in section 192-2 of the City Code as ‘A preplanned single event . . . expected or later found to draw a large number of people. . . for the purpose(s) of entertainment, celebration, amusement, cultural recognition, arts and craft displays and/or sales, special sport competition, block parties or similar activities generally considered recreational in nature.’ A ‘large number of people’ for the purpose of the special events permit requirement is later specified in 192-5 as ‘an estimated attendance of 350 or more participants’.

“Our political rally, which highlights an issue of grave importance for many Coatesville residents, is not recreational in nature. We are not erecting barriers to entry, nor are we charging admission, nor engaging in any commerce or sales. None of the organizers anticipate attendance to meet or exceed 350 persons, and our gathering doesn’t require the suspension of any of the normal activities of the park, nor does it require city support services. In addition, a peaceful outdoor assembly of masked, socially distanced attendees doesn’t detract from public health and safety and complies with current PA COVID19 restrictions.

“While we feel that our rally is allowed under Coatesville’s ordnances, it is most fundamentally an exercise of protected political speech. As county residents and concerned Americans, it is our explicit right under the First Amendment of the US Constitution to freely assemble and petition the government for redress. In particular, our rally represents core political speech held in a traditional public forum, the most highly protected kind as determined by numerous judicial decisions. Our three partner organizations believe strongly in defending the people’s rights to criticize and oppose the actions of the state through peaceful protest. We intend to stand with the people in continuing to support this rally and future actions in furtherance of justice and dignity for all oppressed people.

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“Join us on April 10th to demand the end of cash bail and to stand up for our Constitutional right to free speech.”

More information about the call to action can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/817252915581501/.

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