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Want to know what is on our minds? Find blog posts written here, by the City Club staff, members, and partners. Every week you can find a new edition of #FreeSpeech in the News — a collection of related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century that’s making the news. You’ll also find takes on current events, past forums, and issues surrounding Northeast Ohio. Read on for all things City Club.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2020

#FREESPEECH in the News October 7, 2020

Bliss Davis, Content and Programming Coordinator, The City Club of Cleveland

#FREESPEECH in the News October 7, 2020

As the Citadel of Free Speech here in Cleveland, we work to protect and promote the basis of our democracy by sharing related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century. Here's what's making the news – and what you should know about – in the past week.


1.) No Free-Speech Protection for Man Who Warned Drivers About Police Speed Trap

Holding a sign to warn fellow motorists about an upcoming police ticket trap is not a crime, according to a Connecticut man who filed a federal lawsuit against Stamford police. Michael Friend says he was unlawfully arrested on April 12, 2018, for displaying a simple, cardboard sign reading "Cops Ahead" while standing on the sidewalk 30 yards from the trap.

"Mr. Friend seeks damages to remind the defendant that public scrutiny of police is a mandatory component of democracy," American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Dan Barrett wrote on Friend's behalf.

In this case, Friend noticed Officer Richard Gasparino hiding behind a telephone pole at the intersection of Hope Street and Cushing Street. The officer was the spotter in a sting operation designed to hand out as many cell phone tickets as possible to passing drivers. As soon as the officer realized he was no longer able to ticket anyone, he decided to walk over to Friend. He began the confrontation by grabbing the warning sign out of the man's hands. Friend used his cellphone to record the interaction. After a brief exchange, Friend was released. About half an hour later, Friend returned with a new sign, and the tickets once again dried up.

"This time I took his phone and seized it as evidence because it captured the first interaction between Friend and I to protect myself from any false claims of physical abuse," Officer Gasparino wrote in his police report. "It should be noted that by Friend holding this sign he was tipping off motorists and due to this officers were not observing as many violations as they should be."

2.) ACLU Lawsuit Accuses Iowa State Patrol Of Violating BLM Protesters' Free Speech Rights

The ACLU of Iowa filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday on behalf of five Black Lives Matter activists accusing the Iowa State Patrol of violating protesters’ free speech rights by banning them from the Iowa State Capitol grounds and surrounding areas.

In July, the state patrol told 17 racial justice protesters they’d be arrested if they returned to the Capitol complex. Some were banned for six months, and others were banned for a year. Two of the ACLU’s five clients received only verbal warnings from the ISP to that effect, and three of them received follow-up letters in the mail.

“This is a stunning violation of their constitutional rights,” said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa. “This is true censorship. This prohibits them from exercising their free speech rights, their rights to assemble, petition their government for redress of grievances, on the front end.”

She said courts do not allow this for the most part, except in rare cases involving imminent threats to national security. And she said she believes the bans are “unprecedented,” and that no other groups have been treated like this by the state patrol.

3.) Google contractors allege company prevents them from whistleblowing

Google contract employees are alleging the company’s confidentiality agreements prevent them from a range of legal rights from whistleblowing to telling their parents how much they make, according to a recent court filing.

A California appeals court recently discussed a lawsuit accusing Alphabet’s Google and one of its staffing firms, Adecco, of violating a number of California labor laws, including free speech, by requiring workers to sign extensive confidentiality agreements.

The contractors state they can’t talk about their wages, working conditions or colleagues, among other things, according to the court filing.

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