ACLU: Denver Parks Ban Is “Massive Civil Liberties Problem”

"I don't think there is any authority to ban people from the park."

Denver's Cheesman Park (Photo by R0uge)

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Anyone caught buying, selling or possessing illegal drugs in Denver parks may now be banned from them for 90 days, reports Fox31. Denver Parks and Recreation issued the temporary directive to police this week, in reaction to a recent uptick in drug sales and use — particularly of heroin — in public parks. More than 3,500 needles have been collected by park officials this year — 2,400 of them since April. Those caught under the directive could face up to a year in jail and $999 in fines if they violate the suspension.

“Can you spot the massive civil liberties problem?” responded the ACLU of Colorado on its Facebook page.

“I don’t think there is any authority to ban people from the park,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado. He told Fox31 he believed that activities could be banned from parks, but not people. The Facebook post points out two civil liberties concerns: “One, the Constitution guarantees that you don’t get punished in this country based on accusations alone without a right to defend yourself. It’s called due process.”

Yet the directive states, “The person subject to the Suspension Notice need not be charged, tried or convicted of any crime, infraction, or administrative citation in order for the Suspension Notice to be issued or effective.”

The ACLU’s second concern relates to the possibility for abuse. Given that “Denver has engaged in constant and continuous sweeps to push homeless people out of public spaces for months,” the post questioned whether “this new power of unilateral banishment” won’t be used unjustly.

The city recently began to enforce an 11 p.m. park curfew in response to an increase in makeshift homeless camps there. Earlier this month, a group of homeless men and women sued the city over the sweeps. “We are asking for an injunction because we want the city to stop this unconstitutional policy of homeless sweeps,” attorney Jason Flores-Williams said.

The city countered that it is acting within the law. “The city’s practice is to first try and connect people to services and treatment, and when that doesn’t work people are given ample notice, usually multiple times, before any enforcement action is taken,” said Julie Smith, city spokeswoman, in a statement.

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Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.

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Tags: parkspublic spacedenverdrugs

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