Thursday, November 17, 2011

Major protests are coming; Charlotte needs a plan

The modest clan of protesters that comprise Occupy Charlotte pose little more than a horticultural threat to our city at this point. There’s just a dozen or two of them now, exercising free speech while tromping on the grass at the Old City Hall and annoying local Republican leaders.

But in less than a year, that handful of overnight campers is sure to become a larger spectacle – and probably in spots beyond uptown. The Democratic National Convention will bring an onslaught of protest next September – not just local Occupiers, but groups from around the country and across the ideological spectrum. Charlotte and Mecklenburg County need a plan for their land.

This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave officials here a framework from which to build when he barred overnight camping from Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the Occupy movement. Bloomberg argued that health and safety concerns outweighed protesters’ rights to free speech, and a state Supreme Court judge agreed. In his ruling Monday, Judge Michael D. Stallman reminded all of what the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1985: “Even protected speech is not equally permissible in all places and at all times.”

Yet in that same 1985 Supreme Court case, the court said we also must measure whether “Government’s interest in limiting the use of its property to its intended purpose outweighs the interest of those wishing to use the property for other purposes.” That means officials need to be reasonable about the restrictions they place on public land.

Currently, Charlotte and Mecklenburg don’t have ordinances that prevent what Occupiers are doing at Old City Hall. City and county officials should be proactive by specifying how land can be used uptown and elsewhere, but any plan they develop should be based on two simple principles: Respect the free speech of protesters, and protect the public’s safety and interests of local businesses.

In New York, Bloomberg’s ban showed that public officials can accomplish these seemingly contradictory objectives. NYC didn’t ban protesters from parks, but they eliminated camping by banning tents and sleeping bags along with lying down on the ground or a bench and snoozing.

Other cities have been clumsier. In Denver in 2008, the city girded for demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention by creating a large security zone around the convention site and designating a parade route for rallies so far away that it was an unfair quieting of free speech. Denver also paid $200,000 to settle a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union after city police arrested 100 people downtown for not obeying a dispersal order that didn’t exist.

Like Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul, which hosted the 2008 Republican convention, Charlotte will get the help of thousands of federal agents. Those cities were spared any large-scale disturbances, but the nature of protesting has changed in four years. The tea party has demonstrated the political impact that comes with sizable rallies, and Occupy has shown that novel approaches to protesting can win the attention of media and the public.

On Thursday, Occupy tried a troubling new strategy, clashing with police near Wall Street and tearing down barricades at Zuccotti. It’s a reminder that demonstrators don’t always follow the choreography that governments set out for them. Our public officials should plan for those possibilities next September, but they should do so without stifling the freedoms that the convention nearby will celebrate.

11 comments:

CharlotteIn2012 said...

We hope we can add to the whole festive occasion. And maybe just let folks see the real Charlotte while they are here.

You know the kind of lives we have to live everyday.

heavymetal said...

Charlotte ought to be concerned.

You have Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink already affirming that national anti-war group's intent to demonstrate here.

Veterans for Peace, another anti-war grooup, passed a resolution in August urging Congress to impeach President Obama on war crimes, I would imagine they'd want to be present at the DNC as well.

Add to that your average Black Bloc anarchist-- someone who dislikes any form of government that's not purely socialist and you get a volitile mix the likes of which this city has never seen.

Aside of all that, though, is the public health issue. What of the outbreaks of pneumonia and TB that have been found in the "Occupy" camps in various parts of the country?

That bears some concern, too, I'd think.

BLACKSPEAK said...

Charlotte had better pull up their panties are prepare for the OCCUPIERS cause they are coming to town in a big way...

heavymetal said...

See?
These poeple crave the media attention. Without it they and their "cause" would wither.
In NYC alone today, they could only muster about a fifth of the support they were expecting to turn-out.

Wiley Coyote said...

Oh c'mon...

We have Mayor Fixxit and Rodney. They can handle anything...

from non-riots to non-melees...

heavymetal said...

Melee, ah yes-- lest we forget the May 2011 Speed Street festival.
No problems there, whatsoever.

Garth Vader said...

The United States is a free-speech zone.

heavymetal said...

Indeed it is.
Unfortunately, some people don't seem to realize that their right to free speech ends at the point where it infringes upon another's.

Skippy said...

Button up buttercups. Here comes the OWS pond scum that you have been cheerleading on. And guess who is going to suffer the most from the professional leftist protesters? Answer - the small business's already trying to keep their heads above water in the middle of Obama's man made disaster. And that $50 mil in our money given for security ain't gonna nearly be enough.

PS, there is a clear distinction beteww free speech and destruciton of private property and the sooner as some of our coward mayors wrap their arms around this the better for all of the people that have a job.

J said...

It won't be all bad. Perhaps the Occupiers will come here and march down Tryon St and stop and scream at the walls of a bank branch like they're doing in Frisco. Then they can march over to the Comedy Zone and some of us will pay money to laugh at them.

Cedar Posts said...

I've been saying this since DNC burdened Charlotte with this gift.

Chief Monroe doesn't have the skill set to deal with this and his yes men Medlock and Zinkann are nothing more than JV Cheerleaders.

This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it.