ACLU defends disabled Occupy Raleigh protester’s right to free speech

By Eric W. Dolan
Sunday, December 4, 2011 11:07 EDT
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A 57-year-old disabled woman who was arrested for refusing to move her chair, which she required to use because of back problems, will receive legal representation from the The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

Margaret Schucker was sitting in a chair on a public sidewalk while protesting along with others involved in North Carolina’s “Occupy Raleigh” demonstration on October 27. Despite leaving at least three feet of space for passersby, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, police ordered her to move her chair from the sidewalk to a bench at the nearby Capitol grounds.

Schucker wore her handicap parking permit on her chest, and told officers that she had back problems and needed the chair to participate in the demonstration.

“I wanted to exercise my free speech rights on the same terms as my fellow demonstrators,” Schucker explained in a statement. “The only difference was that, because of my chronic lower back pain, I couldn’t stand while demonstrating and had to use a chair.”

“As a disabled person, I have always been very aware that the sidewalk must be kept clear so that everyone may pass. If I had moved to the bench on the Capitol grounds, as the police suggested, I would have been removed from the view of passersby with whom we were trying to engage.”

She was arrested for second-degree trespassing. Seven other protesters were also arrested.

The ACLU claims Schucker’s right to free speech was violated.

“It’s disgraceful that Ms. Schucker was arrested simply because she was a disabled person trying to exercise her constitutional right to free speech,” said Katy Parker, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

“By ordering her to move away from her fellow demonstrators and their intended targets to an area that demonstrators had previously been banned from using, the police essentially prohibited Margaret from participating in the demonstration, as is her right.”

Photo credit: Occupy Raleigh

Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan has served as an editor for Raw Story since August 2010, and is based out of Sacramento, California. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Science from Bradley University. Eric is also the publisher and editor of PsyPost. You can follow him on Twitter @ewdolan.
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