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The Future of Public Protest: Regulating Mass Demonstrations, Marches, and Parades

Level: Advanced
Runtime: 93 minutes
Recorded Date: August 05, 2020
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  • The public forum doctrine
  • Cases governing the imposition of permits and fees
  • Cases governing police power to arrest or disperse demonstrators
Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Recorded: August 5, 2020

For NY - Difficulty: For Experienced Attorneys Only (Non-Transitional)


After George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers, public protests exploded across the United States. At times, those demonstrations resembled the peaceful methods of Martin Luther King Jr. and the nonviolent marches of Vietnam War protesters. At other times, the George Floyd protests resembled the obstructionist methods of the Occupy Wall Street movement, featuring the blockading of bridges and interstate highways. Our law of public protest -- with its extraordinary protections for those who seek municipal permits before engaging in mass demonstrations and marches -- was created largely in response to the methods of protest employed in the Civil Rights and Vietnam War eras. Our law is not so well adapted to the methods employed by Occupy Wall Street, and those methods have been on display in some of the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

This panel—the first of series of a three-part series on speech and expression in the public forum--will try to address the future regulation of public protest. It will examine not only the existing law of public protest but also the adaptability of that law to modern protest methods. In addition, the panel will examine the enormous challenges that modern protest methods create for municipalities and police departments. Finally, the panel will inquire how courts will likely review the street-level, moment-by-moment decision-making of police officers who confront spontaneous demonstrations conducted without a permit.

This program was recorded on August 5th, 2020.

Provided By

American Bar Association
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Van R. Johnson

Mayor, Savannah
City of Savannah, GA

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, but with strong Savannah roots, Alderman Johnson is a graduate of the New York City Public School System and has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Savannah State and Georgia Southern University.

As a radio talk show host, political commentary and author of local weekly columns, Alderman Johnson has distinguished himself as an independent, thoughtful and passionate voice on current events.

As a nationally certified Human Resources and Georgia certified Law Enforcement professional, Alderman Johnson has utilized his unique skill set as a sought after trainer, speaker and consultant in these areas.

In 2004, Alderman Johnson was elected as the First District Alderman on the Savannah City Council. He has been re-elected 3 times by the citizens of the District. During his tenure on Council, Alderman Johnson has served as Mayor Pro Tem and Vice Chairman. He has consistently used this sacred platform to advocate on behalf of the least, the last and the lost and to promote inclusion and equity for all of Savannah’s citizens.

Alderman Johnson has demonstrated leadership nationally as only the 4th elected official from Savannah to serve on the Board of Directors of the National League of Cities. He was recently appointed to serve as Chair of the Advisory Board of the National League of Cities, becoming the first Savannahian to hold such an office.

Alderman Johnson is nationally recognized as an innovator and thought leader in the areas of youth development and engagement through his service of over 20 years as the Director of the Chatham County Youth Commission. Since that time, he has assisted cities and counties across the country in developing governmental youth leadership programs, to include co-founding the Savannah Youth Council in 2004.

Locally, his service has been dedicated to children, youth and families. He currently serves as the President of the Board of Directors of the Wesley Community Centers of Savannah, past Board Chair of the Chatham County Department of Family and Children Services in addition to numerous local non-profit organizations.

Alderman Johnson’s efforts have been recognized as the 2016 Savannah State University Fellow, 2017 Savannah Martin Luther King Observance Day Parade Marshal, 2017 Savannah Black Heritage Festival honoree, 2017 Association of County Commissioners of Georgia Civic and Community Service Award Recipient and the 2017 James P. Simms Public Service Award by the King Tisdell Cottage Foundation.

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Kevin F. O'Neill

Associate Professor of Law
Cleveland-Marshal College of Law

Kevin Francis O’Neill is an Associate Professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, where he teaches First Amendment, Evidence, Civil Procedure, and Pretrial Practice. Mr. O’Neill joined the full-time faculty in August 1996 after a year-long stint as a visiting professor. His scholarship focuses on the Speech Clause of the First Amendment, with particular emphasis on public protest and forum access issues. He is the co-author (with Howard E. Katz) of Strategies and Techniques of Law School Teaching (Aspen 2009), now in its sixth printing.

Prior to entering academia, Mr. O’Neill served four years (1991-1995) as Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. He was responsible for supervising all ACLU litigation in the state of Ohio and trying selected cases himself. During his tenure at the ACLU, Mr. O’Neill focused special attention on First Amendment issues, reproductive freedom, police misconduct, and government mistreatment of the homeless. After leaving the ACLU for academia, he continued to serve as an ACLU volunteer attorney on First Amendment cases. Acting in that capacity, he negotiated a settlement in September 2001 that restored to Ohio Death Row inmates the traditional privilege to deliver a last dying speech.

Prior to joining the ACLU in May 1991, Mr. O’Neill was a trial lawyer at the national law firms of Smith & Schnacke (now Thompson, Hine & Flory) and Arter & Hadden (now Tucker, Ellis & West). During his seven years in commercial litigation, Mr. O’Neill represented clients from a broad range of locales, including California and Saudi Arabia. His work has spanned all phases of trial and appellate practice, including cases decided by the Ohio and U.S. Supreme Courts.

Mr. O’Neill obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State University in 1977. In the years following his graduation, he worked on the editorial staff of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, where he wrote a column on consumer affairs. He returned to Cleveland (his hometown) in 1981 to attend law school at Case Western Reserve University, obtaining his law degree in 1984.

Mr. O’Neill and his wife, Sonia Winner, have a son, Dylan O’Neill, who was born in 1991 and a daughter, Katherine Scarlett O’Neill, who was born in 1994.

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Jeri Williams

Police Chief, Phoenix Police Department
City of Phoenix, Arizona

?Jeri L. Williams was appointed Police Chief of the Phoenix Police Department in October 2016. She leads the largest police agency in the State of Arizona, which is responsible for providing law enforcement services to the fifth most populous city in the country. Chief Williams oversees a staff of nearly 4,000 employees and manages an annual operating budget that exceeds $700 million.

Chief Williams is a 32-year law enforcement veteran and accomplished police executive. Under her leadership, the Phoenix Police Department is advancing a number of progressive strategies essential in contemporary law enforcement. Previously, she served nearly six years as Police Chief in the City of Oxnard, California where she advanced policecommunity relationships and oversaw the implementation of police body-worn cameras.

Chief Williams is a native Phoenician. She began her career in law enforcement with the Phoenix Police Department and retired as an Assistant Chief after 22 years of service.

Chief Williams is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Police Executive Research Forum and the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police.

During Arizona's Centennial year, Chief Williams was honored as one of Arizona's 48 Most Intriguing Women by the Arizona Centennial Legacy Project, in partnership with the Arizona Historical Society and the Arizona Community Foundation for her leadership in the law enforcement profession. In 2016, she was recognized as California Assembly District 44 Woman of the Year for her leadership and outstanding accomplishments as Chief of the Oxnard Police Department. Later that year, President Obama appointed her to a membership position on the Medal of Valor Review Board. In 2020, Chief Williams was named to the United States Conference of Mayors Police Reform and Racial Justice Working Group, and in 2021, she was appointed to the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.

Chief Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Arizona State University and a master's degree in Education from Northern Arizona University.

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Juan R. Thomas

Of Counsel
Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer

Juan R. Thomas is Of Counsel to Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A., and is the founder and principal of the Thomas Law Group. Mr. Thomas' practice includes the following specialties: real estate/estate planning, labor and employment, and family law. In addition, Mr. Thomas provides counseling and training to firm clients in areas involving personnel, collective bargaining, and business development matters.

Mr. Thomas served as the 75th President of the National Bar Association (NBA) from 2017-18. During his term as President, the NBA co-founded the National Commission for Voter Justice to address voter suppression across the country while advancing electoral reform and civic engagement. Under his Law & Technology Initiative, Mr. Thomas was the first NBA President to lead the Association to Silicon Valley to improve relationships between the African American legal community and the tech industry. Also, under Mr. Thomas’ leadership the NBA established its first LGBTQ Lawyers Division to promote inclusion for all members regardless of their sexual orientation or identity. As a result of Mr. Thomas’ dedication to bar leadership, he was invited to serve on the Leadership Advisory Board of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, a national association whose mission is to provide high-quality programming and leadership development training for lawyers.

The National Black Lawyers: Top 100 includes Mr. Thomas on its list of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers, an honor given to only a select group of lawyers for their superior skills and qualifications in the field. Membership in this exclusive organization is by invitation only and is limited to the top 100 attorneys in each state or region who have demonstrated excellence and have achieved outstanding results in their careers. Mr. Thomas’ selection was based upon his performance as an exceptional lawyer in the practice area of matrimonial and family law in the state of Illinois.

Mr. Thomas is the General Counsel for the Morehouse College National Alumni Association. Recently, he was elected by his peers to serve as the Secretary of the American Bar Association’s Civil Rights & Social Justice Section and is a member of the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section for State & Local Government.

Locally, Mr. Thomas serves on the Board of Directors of Mutual Ground Inc., an organization committed to providing services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and their families. He is also the Chair of the State Conference of Illinois NAACP Legal Redress Committee and serves on the Boards of the Illinois State Bar Association, Leadership Greater Chicago Fellows Association, 100 Black Men of Chicago Inc., the American Constitution Society (Chicago Chapter), the Cook County Bar Association, and the A+ Foundation for the West Aurora School District #129.

Mr. Thomas’ passion is community and public service. While in law school, he successfully ran for the West Aurora School Board, commuting 120 miles each way every weekend during the campaign. At the age of twenty-five (25), Mr. Thomas became the youngest person ever elected to the West Aurora School Board and became the first African American ever re-elected to the Board in 1999. While on the school board, Mr. Thomas served as Chairman of the Board’s Personnel Committee. In 2005, he was elected Aurora Township Clerk becoming the first African American to win a township-wide office in Aurora, IL, the second largest city in the state. In 2009, he was re-elected Aurora Township Clerk with 57% of the vote receiving more votes than any other candidate seeking an Aurora Township office that year. Mr. Thomas was the first Democrat ever to serve as Aurora Township Clerk.

Mr. Thomas previously served as the 1st Vice President of the DuPage County Branch of the NAACP and was on the Boards of the Community Renewal Society, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and the University of Illinois College of Education Board of Visitors and the University of Illinois College of Law Alumni Association.

In 2018, Mr. Thomas was awarded the Katie Holmes Educational Foundation Public Service Award for Leadership and Service in the Legal Community. In 2011 and again in 2015, Mr. Thomas was given the honor of being named, Citizen of the Year by his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Mu Xi Chapter for his service and dedication to the community. He has received the NAACP, DuPage County Branch’s President’s Award both in 2013 and 2014, as well as, a 2014 recipient of the NAACP, DuPage County Branch’s Claude Audley Award of Leadership Excellence, for his leadership and service to the community. Mr. Thomas has received five Presidential Service Awards from the National Bar Association in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2013, and in 2016 for his contributions to the field of law. In 2011, he was invited to become a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation because of his outstanding achievements in the legal profession. Mr. Thomas is a 2004 Fellow of the Harvard Divinity School Summer Leadership Institute, and a 2002 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow.

A graduate of Morehouse College, Mr. Thomas received his Juris Doctor and master’s in educational policy degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. In addition to his professional and civic involvement, Mr. Thomas is an ordained Baptist minister and recently completed his coursework to receive a Master of Arts degree in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago School of Divinity. Mr. Thomas and his wife, Angela, are proud members of St. John AME Church in Aurora where he serves as the Minister for Social Justice.

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