Seattle issues provisional permit to CHOP anniversary celebration event after ACLU threatens lawsuit

SEATTLE — The city of Seattle issued a provisional permit to a group called CHOP Art for a celebration of Juneteenth and the anniversary of CHOP.

It is a stark difference from Thursday when KIRO 7 reported that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was preparing to sue the city for refusing the permit.

Earlier this week, Seattle Parks and Recreation denied the permit for the event organized by the nonprofit that was scheduled to start Friday, June 11, at Cal Anderson Park.

The city initially said it was concerned that the events celebrating or commemorating CHOP would be traumatic to the community.

The ACLU and the Public Defender Association said it was unconstitutional what the city was doing.

Event organizer and president of CHOP Art, Mark Anthony, said the event was not a protest but a celebration.

“I want people to come out and celebrate the freedom of African Americans, celebrate freedom for all and celebrate Black culture,” Anthony said.

Anthony was one of the leaders during the CHOP protest last summer.

He said the city reached out to him at the end of last year to help reactivate Cal Anderson Park.

“They reached out to me so I could provide positive programming centered around art that would promote diversity,” Anthony said. “It seemed like a great opportunity for us to hold our first event live and in person.”

But after submitting the paperwork for a CHOP anniversary and Juneteenth celebration, the city denied the permit three days before the event.

“Complete shock,” Anthony said. He said he had been meeting with the city monthly for more than half a year and even more often in recent months.

In a statement, Seattle Parks and Recreation cited the acts of violence during the CHOP protest last summer, which included two fatal shootings. The city had said in a statement:

“We will not be issuing a permit for this event as we have heard from community members expressing concerns that any events celebrating or commemorating the events that occurred at Cal Anderson in summer of 2020 would be disturbing or even traumatic to the community.”

Anthony said as soon as he received the reasoning, he believed his freedom of speech was being violated. He said the event would still go on as scheduled, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“The idea that any number of concerned citizens could take away my rights is absolutely crazy to me,” Anthony said.

The city added:

“In sensitivity to these concerns, and with caution because of the acts of violence that occurred at the park and the surrounding area last summer and fall, as well as the significant restoration and cleanup efforts that were needed to restore the park, SPR is using higher-than-usual safety and security standards to evaluate all permit requests at Cal Anderson.”

The city’s reasons for denying the permit immediately got the attention of the ACLU of Washington and the Public Defender Association.

“It’s such a clear violation of the First Amendment that I was pretty shocked. You can’t deny a permit based on the content of the event,” said Lisa Nowlin, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington.

In a joint letter from both groups to the city, they called the permit denial “unconstitutional” and asked the city to reverse the decision.

The letter made clear that if that did not happen, “we may need to take emergency legal action.”

“This kind of First Amendment activity is protected at the highest level,” said Prachi Dave, Policy and Advocacy Director with the Public Defender Association.

Anthony said the event will have live music, food, and a lot of art. He added there will be security and said people who intend to cause violence are not welcome.

The city on Thursday did not respond to a request for comment about the letter from the ACLU and Public Defender Association.

On Friday however, the city sent out this statement:

“On April 2, the CHOP Art group submitted a park use permit application for a CHOP Block Party to Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR), requesting a park use permit application and city funding for the event, as well as a street closure permit application. For a variety of reasons, including that some of the permit applications were submitted too late, the permits were denied.

The CHOP Art group never indicated that their event was First Amendment/Rally/Protest permit, nor did they indicate their event was a First Amendment event until June 10, 2021. Instead, the CHOP Art group submitted a permit application for a general use parks event and requested event funding. To date, Seattle Parks and Recreation has not received a First Amendment permit application from the CHOP Art group.

Yesterday the ACLU and PDA reached out to Seattle Parks and Recreation on behalf of the CHOP Art group requesting that the event be permitted as a First Amendment event. SPR has reached out to the CHOP Art group to provisionally grant a First Amendment event permit and is asking that they submit the appropriate application.

On background

It is important to note that many First Amendment events happen in City parks without permits. While it is not required, some First Amendment event organizers do request a permit in order to ensure their event will not be disrupting a previously permitted event or other reasons.

First Amendment permit requests are protected by federal law. Further, when First Amendment permit requests are submitted to Seattle Parks and Recreation they may request the group use a different park if there is a previously scheduled event or advise the group to change aspects of their event in order for it to be more successful. The city of Seattle issued a provisional permit to a group called CHOP Art for a celebration of Juneteenth and the anniversary of CHOP.”

[DOWNLOAD: Free KIRO 7 News app for alerts as news breaks]