Political Speech and Youth Curfews on the Detroit RiverWalk

June 28, 2017

The public walkway and parkland along the Detroit River in Detroit is managed by a private non-profit called the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy.  However, until recently, the Conservancy was treating the land as private property.  In 2013 the ACLU of Michigan wrote a letter explaining that because the Conservancy is performing a public function in running a public park, it is bound by the First Amendment.  In response, the Conservancy allowed a peace and justice group called Women in Black to march and claimed that it would amend its policies. 

However, in 2015, the Conservancy denied several individuals and small groups the right to petition, walk with signs or gather on public grounds without a permit.  Additionally, it instituted a year-round 6 p.m. curfew for anyone under 18 years old who was not accompanied by parents or guardians even though the general curfew for 16 and 17-year-olds in Detroit is generally 11 p.m. 

The ACLU wrote another demand letter and, in response, the Conservancy agreed to lift its general youth curfew and adopt better free speech policies.  However, the Conservancy had still not removed the unconstitutional rules from its website by the summer of 2017.  Following a meeting with representatives of the ACLU, the Conservancy posted the new free speech policies on its website, but has thus far insisted that it is going to enforce the youth curfew.  

(ACLU Attorneys Michael J. Steinberg and Bonsitu Kitaba-Gaviglio; Cooperating Attorneys Syeda Davidson and Ralph Simpson.)

Read our Fall 2018 Legal Docket.