Ferguson's "free speech zone" is a padlocked no-man's-land

Man arrested for briefly failing to keep moving #Ferguson/Jon Swaine/@jonswaine

The ACLU was denied an emergency injunction against Ferguson's cops' illegal "no standing on the sidewalk" rule because Ferguson promised to erect a "free speech zone," but the only thing on that site is a fenced-off, locked-up pen that no one is allowed to use.

At least 78 people have been arrested for standing on the sidewalk in Ferguson, prompting Amnesty International to send 10 observers to the town — the first time Amnesty's observers have been deployed in the USA.

Activists point out that the rule against protesting while stationary amounts to a ban on protesting by disabled and elderly people altogether.

"When inquiries were made to law enforcement officers regarding which law prohibits gathering or standing for more than five seconds on public sidewalks," the ACLU of Missouri wrote in its emergency federal court filing to block the apparent policy, "the officers indicated that they did not know and that it did not matter. The officers further indicated that they were following the orders of their supervisors, whom they refused to name." The ACLU argued the policy was a prior restraint on speech and asked for a temporary restraining order.

"The attorney general came to court via phone and announced that there was an alternative speech zone that was being set up," Tony Rothert, the legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, told msnbc. That satisfied the judge, who agreed it was a close call but denied the ACLU's request to block the policy.

So where and what was that free speech zone? "It's supposed to be at the intersection of Ferguson and Florissant," Rothert said. "There is a field there, but it is padlocked and no one can get in."

ACLU: First Amendment 'suspended in Ferguson' [Irin Carmon/MSNBC]