Abortion rights protest shines light on protester rights

The crowd of at least 1,100 people marched through downtown -- without a permit -- protesting against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 5:41 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Smoke canisters were let off by the Sioux Falls Police Department last night, trying to disperse the crowd that gathered on 14th street.

The crowd of at least 1,100 people marched through downtown -- without a permit -- protesting against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. But Police Chief Jon Thum said there’s a limit on what that crowd could do.

“The First Amendment doesn’t give overarching carte blanche to just do whatever you want at any given moment. There’s still some safety things that are in place. These laws are made by the people, as far as these traffic safety laws to keep people safe.” Thum said.

The department issued a dispersal order, declaring the protest and unlawful assembly. A Sioux Falls city ordinance defines an unlawful assembly as 25 or more people gathered without a permit from the city. Thum said after the crowd stalled on 14th street, they had to act to clear the road.

“There’s a time, place and reasonableness standard, about where the time is, is it reasonable. We have to look through those factors as well. In the middle of the street, especially as it’s getting dark and we can’t secure safety, is not necessarily reasonable.” Thum said.

The ACLU of South Dakota notes says though that protesters do not need a permit to protest on sidewalks or streets. Communications Director Janna Farley said that does mean that marchers can’t block or impede traffic in doing so.

“You don’t need a permit to march on streets or on sidewalks, as long as the marchers aren’t obstructing car or pedestrian traffic.” Farley said.

She said even if a protest doesn’t need a permit, it’s still a good thing to reach out and make sure it complies with city ordinances.

“But it’s always a good idea. You can call city hall and just ask if the event you’re planning requires something. And it’s a pretty easy process. But it’s just takes time to do.” Farley said.

In Sioux Falls, a permit allows a group of more than 25 people to protest for a cause. A permit cannot be denied based on the context of the speech. The only limitation a city can issue is preventing a protest from interfering with public safety.

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