Jailed Portland Protesters Must Agree to Stop Going to Protests to Be Freed

At least 12 Black Lives Matter protesters arrested during the ongoing demonstrations in Portland, Oregon have been told not to attend protests as a condition of their release from jail, something which may be a violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.

"Defendant may not attend any other protests, rallies, assemblies or public gathering in the state of Oregon," states a document entitled "Order Setting Conditions of Release." The document is given to arrested protesters to sign before they're allowed out of jail.

Though the conditional release orders were signed by Magistrate Judges John V. Acosta and Jolie A. Russo of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, it's unclear whether the magistrates or Justice Department officials added the condition forbidding arrestees to attend future protests or public gatherings.

Several of the orders had the condition written on it before being given to a magistrate for signing, according to the investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica.

Some of the orders forbid defendants from attending protests in all of Oregon, while others only forbid protests in Portland or don't specify any geographic area whatsoever, stating, "Do not participate in any protests, demonstrations, rallies, assemblies while this case is pending."

Several protesters told ProPublica that they felt they had to accept the conditional release or else remain imprisoned indefinitely. Many of the protesters facing these conditional releases were often charged with petty offenses such as "failing to obey a lawful order" or "disorderly conduct."

Protesters not specifically banned from protesting are either given 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. curfews that would restrict them from attending Portland's nighttime protests or are forbidden from being within five blocks of the federal courthouse where the city's nighttime protests are taking place.

Portland protesters protestors jail release stop protesting
Federal police confront protesters in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland as the city experiences another night of unrest on July 26, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Spencer Platt/Getty

"The government has a very heavy burden when it comes to restrictions on protest rights and on assembly," Jameel Jaffer of Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute told the nonprofit. "I don't see that as constitutionally defensible, and I find it difficult to believe that any judge would uphold it."

Portland has become a center of national focus during the ongoing racial justice protests sparked by the May 25 murder of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd by a white police officer.

More demonstrators have started attending Portland's nightly protests in response to the U.S. government sending agents to protect the federal courthouse where the protests occur.

The city's mayor, the state governor and state attorney general have all accused the federal agents of needlessly provoking violence by using blunt impact munitions and tear gas against demonstrators.

On July 21, Federal Protective Service (FPS) Deputy Director of Operations Richard Cline said that three federal agents had been blinded by demonstrators who directed laser pointers into the agents' eyes. However, ProPublica reports that by July 24, "the most serious injury detailed in federal charging documents was an agent who reported seeing spots in his eyes for 15 minutes after the laser attack."

Newsweek contacted the Department of Homeland Security for comment.