Cleveland has agreed to pay $225,000 in a settlement with a second protester who was arrested outside of the 2016 Republican National Convention for burning the American flag.
As The Ohio Star reported in April, the city agreed to a $50,000 settlement with Steven Fridley, who was also arrested for partaking in the protest.
This time the money is going to Gregory “Joey” Johnson, the same Gregory Johnson who was the defendant in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 Texas v. Johnson decision. That case found that burning the American flag was protected by the First Amendment.
Johnson and Fridley both had their criminal charges dismissed by the Cleveland Municipal Court, and sued the City of Cleveland for violating their First Amendment rights.
“Instead of protecting RNC protesters’ constitutional rights, Cleveland police stalked them, literally extinguished their speech rights, and then arrested and prosecuted them—violating 30-year-old Supreme Court precedent taught to schoolchildren,” said Subodh Chandra of Chandra Law Firm, which represented both Johnson and Fridley.
Chandra criticized city leaders for failing to “hold officers accountable for lying” about Johnson, whom police officers claimed was on fire and setting others on fire during the protest. Video of the incident, however, contradicts those claims, according to Chandra.
“Why does the truth about what the video footage shows happened apparently not matter to a single Cleveland official? Where is the internal-affairs investigation? Where is the Civilian Police Review Board investigation?” Chandra asked.
Johnson is a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party and said in a press release that he chose to protest at the RNC because “America was never great.”
“It is wrong to close our eyes to the history of genocide and slavery, wars of empire, invasions and occupations, coups and torture—all the atrocities the U.S. government has committed here and around the world,” Johnson said. “When Cleveland police unjustly and brutally arrested me and 15 others, they attacked the Supreme Court decision I won 30 years ago holding that flag burning in protest is a powerful form of constitutionally protected speech critical of the government.”
“No matter what one may think of Mr. Johnson’s views or his manner of expressing them, we live in a time where respect for fundamental rights is eroding and authoritarianism is on the rise,” Chandra added. “That calls for more expressions of dissent, not self-appointed speech police extinguishing dissent—and then lying about it.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Gregory Johnson” by Cleveland.com.