Media Contact

Kristi Gross, ACLU of Texas, [email protected]
Allegra Harpootlian, ACLU, [email protected]

June 25, 2024

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the ACLU are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the state criminal court convictions of three North Texas community organizers who were sentenced to incarceration in county jail for peacefully protesting a Confederate monument outside a county courthouse. 

On Aug. 30, 2020, Gainesville organizers Torrey Henderson, Amara Ridge, and Justin Thompson marched calmly with approximately three dozen people on a route outside the county courthouse in Gainesville, Texas, a small town north of Dallas. 

A few days later, they were arrested for “obstructing a highway or other passageway,” a misdemeanor under Texas law, even though they had not caused an obstruction under the law or directed others to cause one. In 2022, they were convicted in county court based on evidence about others at the march. In November 2023, the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo upheld their convictions

“We founded PRO Gainesville to speak out against injustice in our hometown and facing jail time for peacefully protesting shows how far we have still to go,” said Gainesville community organizers Torrey Henderson (she/her), Amara Ridge (she/her), and Justin Thompson (he/him). “We are not the first protesters to petition the highest court in the land to defend our most fundamental rights. The struggle for the right to protest, especially against racial injustice, has been passed down through generations. With the law on our side, we carry the resolve of our Black elders who marched before us to build a more equal society where our children and future generations are free to speak against injustices without losing their liberty.” 

The petition for certiorari asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state appellate court decision and ultimately reverse the organizers’ convictions on the charge of obstructing a passageway. The organizers have also filed a stay application, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow them to remain free while the court reviews their petition. 

“Our democracy is contingent on the right to protest,” said Savannah Kumar (she/they), ACLU of Texas staff attorney and counsel of record for the three community organizers. “The Constitution protects our clients’ right to peacefully protest in their rural hometown, just as it protected the rights of civil rights leaders across the country before them. No one should lose their liberty for simply walking in a public space without obstructing traffic or directing others to do so.”

As the petition explains, convicting the organizers based on the actions of others and for their brief, orderly march along a public street and sidewalk violates the First Amendment. 

“The First Amendment protects our right to use public streets and sidewalks to assemble, protest, and march about issues of public concern,” said David Cole (he/him), national legal director of the ACLU. “Punishing our clients for organizing a nonviolent civil rights protest — where they neither obstructed traffic nor directed others to do so — is unconstitutional.”

Witness the Gainesville organizers’ story in their own words.

A copy of the petition for certiorari is available here:

A copy of the stay application is available here: