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After ACLU lawsuit, Cambridge will no longer charge for safety services at protests

Thousands filled Cambridge Common on Jan. 20 for the anniversary of the larger Women’s March in Washington in 2017. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2018

Cambridge will no longer charge for public safety services at “demonstration events” following a settlement with organizers of this year’s Women’s March, who were charged for police details and medical services, the city announced Thursday.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts last month on behalf of Massachusetts Peace Action, alleged that the city charged organizers for a police and medical technician presence that they did not request for the January march. The ACLU called these charges — which amounted to thousands of dollars — a violation of organizers’ First Amendment rights.


The settlement waives the charges imposed on Massachusetts Peace Action and Massachusetts Peace Action Education Fund, which was the fiscal agent for the event. And as part of the settlement, Cambridge will no longer charge for public safety services at “demonstration events,” including rallies, vigils, protests, and marches.

Michelle Cunha, the assistant director of Massachusetts Peace Action, said in a statement, “We are heartened to know that free speech and assembly continue to be free in Cambridge.”

The Jan. 20 event, one of hundreds across the country set to coincide with the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration, drew up to 10,000 people to Cambridge Common. Cambridge sent its own police officers to the gathering, along with officers from the MBTA Transit Police and the Melrose, Everett, and Chelsea police departments.

In the days and months following the march, Massachusetts Peace Action said it received bills for these services, even though it never agreed to pay for them, according to the complaint filed in the suit.

Cambridge City Manager Louis DePasquale, who was listed as a defendant in the suit along with the city, said in a statement Thursday that the settlement ensures that the public safety costs associated with demonstration events “do not become a burden for the organizers.”


“The City of Cambridge is deeply committed to supporting the public’s right to freely express their views and peacefully assemble in our city parks,” he said.

Ruth Bourquin, an attorney for the ACLU who represented the organizers, said in a statement that she was “pleased” with the outcome.

“This is how democracy is supposed to work,” she said.

Jamie Halper can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.