The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has filed a free speech lawsuit against the city of Providence. The suit follows the arrest of a local musician.
62-year-old Manuel Pombo has been performing on the streets of Providence for the last 30 years. Pombo says he’s had a several run-ins with police, and in 2013 he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Those charges were later dropped.
The ACLU alleges the arrest violated Pombo’s right to free speech. According to the ACLU, the city has no formal ordinance or regulation for street musicians, or buskers.
Pombo has what’s called a “permission to perform” license, which allows him to play at the discretion of city police.
According to Pombo that term “discretion” creates a hazy set of guidelines for officers.
“I’m not blanketing the entire police department,” said Pombo. “There are officers that support what I do, and have even tipped me. So there seems to be no rule even with the permit, as to what determines whether they’re going to tell me to stop playing or not.”
This is the third lawsuit the ACLU of RI has filed against the city of Providence in the last five years. RI ACLU Director Steven Brown said it was “surprising and disappointing and that a major municipality would show so little regard for allowing people to exercise their free speech rights.”
Providence officials say their legal department is aware of the complaint and is looking into the allegations.
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