September 11, 2012

David Archie is a local activist from the Jackson area who has been around for quite awhile. After hearing complaints from the Canton area about incidents of racial profiling by the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, Archie and other local community groups planned a “Rally and March for Justice” in Canton, Mississippi, for March 27, 2008.

The organizers planned a rally at the Old Courthouse followed by a march to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. On the day of the event the City of Canton Police Chief Robert Wynn informed the organizers of the event that they had not obtained a Parade Permit to march on the City’s streets and therefore could not march to the Sheriff’s Department. He added that anyone who marched would be arrested. Event organizers had a permit to rally on county property, which they believed would cover the march as well.

Nsombi Lambright, former Executive Director of ACLU-MS, grabbed the bullhorn and told crowd that the police would arrest anyone who marched to the sheriff’s department. S Marchers were told to walk, drive or ride in the van that the ACLU provided that day. The marchers dispersed and made their way to the Sheriff’s Department—some walking, others driving or riding.

The Canton Police Department remained on the scene and followed those who decided to walk. After about a mile, the police announced to the estimated twenty walkers that if they continued they would be arrested. With no other way to get to the courthouse, they continued to walk. As Archie and one other walker approached the corner, Chief Wynn announced that if they “crossed the street they would be arrested.” Archie and the others continued to walk and as they crossed the street, officers began to make arrests. A total of fourteen walkers, including Archie, were arrested and charged withDisorderly Conduct.. Archie received the additional charge of Failure to Obtain a Parade Permit. , The ACLU of Mississippi represented the “Canton 14”in Municipal Court. With the exception of Archie, the judge remanded all cases to the file. Archie was convicted on all charges.

The ACLU of MS appealed the conviction, challenging the constitutionality of the parade ordinance. On behalf of Archie, we contended that the ordinance was facially invalid, and violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Archie and the others engaged in First Amendment activity in a traditional public forum, and the ordinance placed an unconstitutional restriction on their right to speech.

After more than three years in litigation, the Mississippi Court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU position and ruled that the Canton’s parade ordinance was unconstitutional. The court rendered judgments of acquittal.