End Unconstitutional Curfew Ordinance in Denton, TX
End Unconstitutional Curfew Ordinance in Denton, TX
On Sunday May 31, 2020 in Denton, Texas, Mayor Chris Watts issued a Declaration of Local Disaster and Order which implemented a curfew for specific government buildings within city limits to last from 9:00 pm until 6:00 am from Sunday, May 31, 2020 to Sunday, June 7, 2020. The areas include the Designated Downtown Area (otherwise known as The Square), the Denton County Courthouse, the Jail Facility, and other areas of the Denton County Building Complex. The ordinance is for all individuals who are physically within the designated limits stated above, with the only exemptions being “public safety personnel, credentialed members of the news media, individuals traveling to and from work, and individuals seeking medical attention.” Mayor Watts has stated that the reasoning for the curfew is “to protect those in attendance, other bystanders, and the surrounding area from any potential harm. This order will help ensure our residents will make it home safely and protect private property from damage.”
This curfew was implemented in response to national protests calling for ends to police brutality toward African Americans in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by Officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, MN on May 25, 2020. According to current statistical analysis, 1,252 Black citizens have been murdered by police officers who have sworn oaths to uphold peace since 2015. The analysis from these statistics reveals that Black Americans “account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate.” The curfew was also implemented less than twenty-four hours after Denton residents came together, peacefully and while respecting CDC guidelines for the current COVID-19 pandemic, to call for an end to local and national police brutality outside of the Denton Police Department; less than forty-eight hours after a video surfaced showing at least four University of North Texas (UNT) police officers forcefully restraining and racially profiling former UNT student, Jekhari “Jey” Williams, an unarmed young Black man, for a bike light being out upon discovering he had an outstanding arrest warrant; and less than six months after a City of Denton police officer (identity has been protected by the Denton Police Department and is thus still on active duty) shot and killed UNT senior Darius “D.J.” Tarver outside of his apartment, also an unarmed young Black man who was healing from a car accident and struggling with his mental health at the time of his murder.
We the people do not feel that the peace is being upheld in Denton when there are no repercussions for police officers murdering and continually racially-profiling this nation’s Black citizens and communities. We are tired of being murdered in our communities and homes instead of being protected by the authorities from those who would seek to murder us. For years our pleas have fallen on deaf ears as our Black brothers and sisters continue to be murdered in their sleep, in front of their TVs, while jogging, and while experiencing mental health crises. As Americans, our right to peacefully protest the police brutality that is decimating our communities is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Although many protests across the country have erupted in violence, it is well-documented and must be reiterated that all protests in Denton thus far that are in direct response to George Floyd’s murder have seen zero instances of violence to individuals or property, and zero instances of threats of violence to individuals or property. Therefore, we the people find Mayor Watts’s ordinance illegal for the following reasons:
1. WHEREAS Mayor Watts has insinuated in his Declaration that Denton protestors are violent, looters, and civil disobedients, he has infused Denton’s peaceful protests with the same racial profiling and untrue stereotypes that Black people face everyday in America as an attempt to create a falsehood about both the wishes of Denton citizens and the narrative supporting our desire for an end to police brutalities. Further, as there has been widespread documentation of the peaceful nature of all of Denton’s peaceful gatherings on traditional media as well as various social media outlets for the nation to see, Mayor Watts’s baseless invocations stoke the flames of racial hatred in the same vein as President Donald Trump.
2. WHEREAS the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects and guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” Mayor Watt’s order is in direct violation with the federal government. Further, in De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S 353 (1937), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the right to peaceably assemble "for lawful discussion, however unpopular the sponsorship, cannot be made a crime." Mayor Watts’s order is in direct violation of federal protections as upheld by the United States Congress, with his order restricting peaceful protesting in public spaces.
3. WHEREAS every single one of the designated areas on Mayor Watt’s order is listed as county property, Mayor Watts’s legal jurisdiction is over the City of Denton only. Both Denton County and the City of Denton governments have repeatedly made clear over the years the distinctions between city property and county property in the Designated Downtown Area. Both governments have identified and acknowledged the sidewalk surrounding The Square as city property, but the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum and the grass and ground it rests on are county property. Therefore, Mayor Watts does not legally have the authority to restrict free speech and peaceful public gatherings on property that is outside of the City of Denton’s jurisdiction.
4. WHEREAS cities in Texas may only act by and through its entire governing body, i.e. the mayor and the city council per the Texas Constitution, Mayor Watts did not get approval from the Denton City Council before issuing his order. City Councilmembers were notified of his order via email at the same time it was released to the general public. It was an act born out of personal interest rather than following state laws and upholding the interest of the citizens. Therefore, Mayor Watts is in direct violation with State of Texas laws pertaining to city governance and city governing bodies.
5. WHEREAS it is clear from Mayor Watts’s words that he is more concerned about protecting government property outside of his jurisdiction rather than listening to his constituents who are obeying all laws of the land and who are exercising their federally-protected right to peacefully gather and address governmental grievances. The only logical conclusion from Mayor Watt’s hasty and illegal ordinance is that he is solely interested in protecting specific county property, including the Confederate Monument which has been subject to calls for removal since at least 2001 but which have remained fervent since 2017. Mayor Watts is more interested in protecting the narrative and power of white supremacy which still exists in Denton (City and County) today while simultaneously silencing voices that are peacefully calling for and end to black deaths at the hands of white police officers. This blatant overstepping invokes a similar tactic used by outgoing Denton County Judge Mary Horn in late 2018, when she also abused her power in attempts to protect the Confederate Monument via the Texas Historical Commission without public knowledge.
In light of these blatant abuses, we demand the following of Mayor Watts:
1. To immediately cease enforcement of this illegal ordinance in the absence of violence at our federally-protected peaceful protests. Further, in light of City of Denton police officers’ and Denton County sheriffs’ refusals to attack nearly 5,000 peaceful protestors after 9:00 pm on Monday June 1, 2020 in the Designated Downtown Area, should Mayor Watts decide to implement violence to protect this illegal curfew from this point forward, it will be considered a selective implementation and we will therefore reserve the right to seek legal action as we see fit.
2. To not only allow peaceful protestors to descend on our government buildings to petition for a redress of grievances, but to also publicly protect us to dissuade members of domestic terrorist organizations who seek to infiltrate peaceful protests by furnishing weapons, tear gas, and other materials that could be used to damage public property (such as spray paint), thus laying blame on peaceful protesters and altering truths. Mayor Watts, support your citizens!
3. An unconditional public apology to the citizens of the City of Denton and Denton County, but specifically to Denton’s Black community and Black activists, citizens, and peaceful protestors, for abusing his authority by overstepping his jurisdiction, by proclaiming ordinances without the consent of the City Council, and for attempting to silence voices that are peacefully protesting an end to violence against African American persons and entire Black communities.
4. Reparations, in the amount of $1,000 per infringement and per stereotyped statement on the Declaration of Local Disaster and Disorder that begins with “WHEREAS” to be paid to Denton’s Black community at large or to be paid to Black nonprofit organizations seeking an end to police brutalities, to be determined by a caucus from within Denton’s Black community. We also reserve the right to seek punitive damages for Mayor Watt’s gross negligence, blatant oppression, and fraudulent conduct in his attempts to restrict access to public property outside of City jurisdiction.
5. If these demands are not met, or if the Mayor continues to enforce ordinances that are outside of the City’s jurisdiction, or if the Mayor continues to silence Black voices that only want to peacefully call for an end to police brutalities, then we the people reserve the right to seek legal action, as we see fit, in response to his infringement of federally-sanctioned and legally-protected civil rights. We will not stop exercising our right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.
6. If these demands are not met, then we also reserve the right to demand Chris Watt’s immediate recall as Mayor of Denton for abuse of authority for the duration of his term.