Breaking: Boise Police to stop enforcing noise ordinances following a court issued partial injunction against the city of Boise

Photo by Kiryn Willett

The Federal District Court of Idaho issued a partial injunction on a noise ordinance the Sierra Club claims has had a chilling effect on protests on April 18.

The injunction only applies to megaphone ordinance “as it applies to the Sierra Club” according to the press release, and does not apply to the other two ordinances Sierra Club was contesting that limit gatherings and the use of loudspeakers and megaphones in Boise parks, or other organizations besides the Sierra Club.

Lisa Young, the Director of the Idaho Chapter of Sierra Club, stated in an email to The Arbiter April 26 that the Boise Police Department (BPD) has decided to not enforce the noise ordinance against any protests following the injunction. 

“We’ve just been informed by City attorneys that the Chief of Police has ordered Boise Police to halt all enforcement of the megaphone noise ordinance indefinitely,” said Lisa Young, Director of Idaho Sierra Club. “After sending in letters from over 24 local organizations urging the City to do this, we’re overjoyed to hear this news. Now everyone in Boise can enjoy these protections of their First Amendment rights.”

The decision comes after a partial injunction in Sierra Club’s favor, that ruled that BPD could not stop the Sierra Club youth organizers from using megaphones at their protest.

“The federal court’s decision to grant this partial injunction indicates that Boise City Code § 5-7-3 is likely unconstitutional, and it would behoove the City to halt all police enforcement of that ordinance to protect the constitutional rights of all its residents and avoid further costly lawsuits,” Young wrote in a letter to the City of Boise. 

Young has been involved in protests utilizing megaphones for about 15 years , but the ordinance was something that has only recently been enforced. 

“It was just a couple of years ago, I’m trying to think exactly when we found out that the police were beginning to enforce this ordinance and ticketing and arresting and in some cases, really brutalizing activists just for the use of a megaphone,” Young said. “And so that, you know, we learned about that as an organization and had to begin kind of you know, ramping down our use of that tactic and that tool out of fear that that would happen to us as well.”

Young said that this has undermined the effectiveness of their protests. 

“The point of a protest is to make some noise and to be heard, for the crowd to hear what people are saying but also for the general public and for decision makers to hear you and so by not being able to use megaphones, it’s really impacted our ability to have effective protests,” Young said.

According to Young, Sierra Club isn’t the only organization which has been impacted by this. Black Lives Matter, Idaho Abortion Rights, and pro-Palestinian movements have also been impacted by these ordinances. 

The Arbiter previously reported on a cease-fire protest where an organizer for the Party for Socialism and Liberation was cited for using a megaphone. 

“We can’t say definitively and actually, hopefully through this case, we can learn a bit more and actually get more data and information from the city about how police have been enforcing this more broadly. But from what we know, yeah, it’s it’s really been targeting the activists and protests that we named in the press release…And we have kind of anecdotally seen that there are other people out using amplified sound devices that that aren’t being pressured by the police or ticketed by them,” Young said. “That said, we really think no one should be ticketed or arrested or pressured by the police to not use these devices. You know, regardless of their political affiliation or their cause. These are basic first amendment rights. That we, you know, have as Americans that we need to that the city and the police need to be honoring.”

Two youth organizers from Sierra Club who wrote testimonies but are only identified by their initials on case had first hand experience with the limitations of not being able to use a megaphone. 

“It’s kind of limiting in terms of how many people you can actually get in the movement or in the process. Because you’re really limited to however loud you can project right? And that’s always going to be less than the volume you can achieve with sound [amplifiers] like megaphones,” one organizer said. 

Another organizer said it made the protests more disorganized. 

“Made it just like a lot less effective? Because if we were able to use a megaphone, it would help things stay more or less on track and like organized, where sometimes when we do our chants, within our rallies in our community it’s not very clear and it’s disjointed because people are like off track with the chant leader sometimes,” the second organizer said.

Kimra Luna, the co-founder of Idaho Abortion Rights, was arrested at a protest in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade on May 14, 2022, under the sound ordinance. Luna said they spoke to the police department over the phone beforehand and let them know it was a peaceful protest where attendees were bringing their children. 

“But the moment that I stepped outside of the people [at] the [Cecil D.] Andrus Park and across the street, I was immediately harassed by police officers telling me you’re not allowed to use that device. None of them are saying that I was being arrested or detained or anything of that nature,” Luna said. “They just repeatedly kept telling me you cannot use this device, and I kept telling them, ‘I am practicing my First Amendment [right]. And I am going to keep using this device and I’m going to keep doing a sidewalk protest.”

Luna continued to march down from the capitol to 8th street, and Luna said cops continued to follow them and insist they could not use a sound amplification device, and took the device from their hands and arrested them. 

“And I did not know that I was even being arrested because no one had said that I was being arrested or detained, which we actually have all the body cams and everything that not one person told me I was being arrested so I was already arrested,” Luna said. “And anyways, they arrested me in front of my children who were with me. The police knew ahead of time that my children were going to be with me because the police had actually called me and spoke with me about the event which I told them that my kids are going to be with me at the event.”

Luna said that the reason for the arrest was never explained. 

“Even after they arrested me and I was in booking, they can ask me well, do you know why you were arrested? I said no. I do not know why I was arrested. I did not commit a crime. I do not know why you did this to me. I do not know why you have detained me and brought me to jail.. I consistently told them that the entire time because I know that I did not commit a crime,” Luna said.

The case was later dismissed, but this experience had a lasting impact on Luna and others in the community.

“There were a lot of people who told me after being arrested that they were scared to come out to more rallies and events because they thought that they themselves would become arrested,” Luna said. “And it traumatized me to the point where there was another rally hosted by a different group a few days after that and someone wanted me to speak on the Capitol steps and it was with a megaphone. And this was again only like four or five days after I’ve been arrested. And when they began handing me the megaphone I actually went into a panic attack.”

Ritchie Eppink, an attorney from Wrest Collective representing Sierra Club on the case, said that these ordinances had several problems.

“The ordinances that we’re talking about in this case, which include the one that we’ve focused on, which is the amplified sound ordinance, as well as restrictions on assembling and protesting in Boise’s parks, actually have it sort of like once you open the box, there are a bunch of different things inside that are First Amendment problems,” Eppink said.

According to Eppink, the laws and their enforcement were giving preference to commercial business over political and social groups. 

“As I think all Americans would expect, that’s the reverse of what our constitution was meant to do. Commercial speech and things like you know, Jack in the Box, they have free speech rights too but we have a hierarchy of what’s important when it comes to free speech and calling attention to social problems speaking out on political issues is at the top of that hierarchy, and Boise’s ordinance actually flips that pyramid over that’s one thing that you find in that box,” Eppink said.

According to Eppink, the sound and park ordinances allow the government to “pick and choose” who has the right to assemble and use sound amplification devices. 

“There have to be really clear standards that ensure that the government doesn’t get to favor one group over the other, or that people don’t have to worry like the Sierra Club has been about whether or not they’re going to get permission in the first place. They should be able to look at some clear standards and say, yep, we qualify. And what we don’t have in these Boise ordinances are those standards,” Eppink said. “And in fact, in the Boise ordinances, we have something even worse, which is not only does government get to choose pick and choose who gets to speak and who gets to gather, but private entities, including churches and religious organizations get a pass under the ordinance, where groups like the Sierra Club and other political protesters like PSL and others, they don’t get a pass. They have to go and get permission first.”

Sierra Club intends to continue to fight the park ordinances in court. BPD cannot control what the State Police or Ada County Sheriffs do, so they could still choose to enforce that City ordinance. They are reaching out to get assurance that they’ll comply, according to attorney for the City of Boise Reid Peterson.

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