Monday, January 30, 2012

Enforce ordinance as written, but no more

Tuesday's Observer editorial:

Unless you’re a news junkie, you’ve probably been only vaguely aware of the fledgling and listless Occupy Charlotte movement. A few dozen protesters have been camped out on the Old City Hall lawn since last fall, generally behaving themselves but giving limited voice to their anti-one-percent message. So their dispersal by Charlotte police Monday may hardly seem momentous.

But while the stage was tiny, the principles at issue, and the implications for Charlotte’s near future, were significant.

City leaders and police are in a tough spot. With the Democratic National Convention arriving here in seven months, they need ordinances that keep the public safe and prevent Charlotte from making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. They also need to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the very First Amendment of which gives people the right to peaceably assemble. That’s a difficult balance.

Charlotte’s City Council made a good effort, by and large, to strike that balance when it revised its crowd-control ordinances last week. Those revisions did give police overly broad powers to search every handbag and backpack. Banning protesters from sleeping on public property, however, was sensible. New York, Oakland and other cities have found that people living and sleeping in campsites on public property can evolve into unruly, dangerous mobs.

That’s what the City Council was seeking to avoid when it softened its proposed ordinance. Initially, council members considered banning tents, tarps and other temporary structures altogether. Trying to strike that balance, though, they changed the wording to outlaw only tents used “for living accommodation purposes such as sleeping, or making preparations to sleep … or storing personal belongings.”

In other words: Protest all you want, but no living (and sleeping) on public property. That’s a sensible restriction. One needn’t sleep to protest or peaceably assemble.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, though, overstepped their authority Monday because they removed all tents, whether they would be used for sleeping or not. Police Chief Rodney Monroe said they did so “going on history, based on prior observations.” That is, protesters had been sleeping in the tents for months. He cared not whether they would be sleeping in them going forward.

But it was legal for protesters to sleep in them until now, because the new ordinance didn’t take effect until Monday. When we asked about that, Monroe said only: “We’ll leave that up to the courts to decide.” He would not answer questions about whether a protester could pitch a tent today, as long as he does not sleep in it.

(We should emphasize how well police performed Monday. While their reading of the ordinance is mistaken, their calm, skilled dismantling of the site was highly professional. Protesters, too, were peaceful throughout.)

Whatever one might believe should be allowed, the city ordinance does not forbid tents or canopies unless they are used for sleeping. Going forward, if protesters – from Occupy or the tea party or any other group – assemble on public property and use tarps to protect themselves from the elements, they are violating nothing. Police need to understand that and the City Council and city attorneys should make sure they do.


Garth Vader said...

"Fledgling and listless" - hmmm, that sounds like a good description of McClatchy's stock price.

Garth Vader said...

The Constitution doesn't GIVE people rights - it guarantees the inalienable rights with which we are endowed by our Creator.

Not that I'd expect a government-uber-alles bunch like the Observer Editorial Board to have ever read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Redlight said...

If the Tea Party erected a tent to protect them from the elements, I suspect your interpretation of the ordinance might change.

Skippy said...

Redlight, you are spot on. If any single one of the thousands of incidents that has happened at these disease filled encampments including 9 murders were at a Tea Party event, what would the MSM be reporting on? The Charlib Nonobservant did run one piece on the anti-Semitism, but that was quickly thrown under the "let's not report anymore about this" file section by our bold journalists.

Liberal extremism air brushed over by the sycophants. Now the OWS utopians are a problem and Nancy Pelosi is running away faster from these flea baggers faster than she dig her insider trading allegations.

Now they have a big problem brewing this coming DNC. It's your bed libs, now lay in it.

Michael said...

So, the Observer is wrong in their belief that I could erect a shelter, on public property,today, and it would be legal?

EuroCat said...

What a disappointment the Charlotte Observer has "evolved" into.

One of the most fundamental and important purposes of a "free press" is, under the United States Constitution, to serve as a check of unfettered government power. Based on several assertions in this editorial, the Observer has failed miserably at this sacred duty.

So..."one needn't sleep to protest or peaceably assemble". Oh, really? What's more peaceful than sleeping? Where in either the letter or the spirit of the United States constitution does "peaceably assemble" exclude sleeping? Where in the letter or spirit of that governing document does a "time limit" on peaceable assembly appear?

",,,people living and sleeping in campsites on public property can evolve into unruly and dangerous mobs". Oh? Amazing! And cars driven on streets can evolve into deadly projectiles, and stores carrying out commerce can evolve into the sites of deadly shootings and fans at football games can evolve into unruly mobs. Where is your call to ban cars? Where is your call to ban commerce? Where is your call to ban football?

It is indeed disgusting to watch what was, and should have remained, a member of the journalistic ranks devolve into an obsequious mouthpiece for an out-of-control government. The Soviet Union had one of those: it was named Pravda. With The Charlotte Observer's blind and fawning cheerleading for the actions of a corrupt and oppresive City Hall regime, you, Charlotte Observer editorial board, have just forfeited any right you may ever have had to call yourselves "journalists". You have totally failed in your responsibility to call out government when it begins to violate the fundamental rights of "We The People".

Reality Check said...

Response to EuroCat 07:56am

I highly doubt the founding fathers intended for protesters to camp out on public property. The right to assemble does not necessarily give people the right to pitch tents on public property. When the government building closes up shop for the day, so does the right of any citizen to occupy that space. Clearing the trespassers is long overdue, and I hope they are no longer allowed to destroy that public property.

And yes, perhaps you haven't seen the violent efforts to come out of the Occupy Oakland movement.

However, the most disappointing part of your rant was that you accused the Observer Editorial Board of not siding with the Occupy protesters. You couldn't be more incorrect. This ridiculous O-pinion piece reeks of sympathy for the trespassers. There is no reason for any tents to be placed upon public land. If you choose to protest throughout the winter, then you provide your own warmth, and do not expect to be allowed to erect tents and shelters. Do what the rest of us do when we go outside: Zip your jacket and drink some coffee. There is no good reason for me to have to look at shanty-town on public property.

Protesters have as much right to erect a tent on public property as I have to erect a billboard advertising my business. It's public property, right? So you're saying that "the public" shouldn't get a say in what takes up space on that public property? Then maybe I should be allowed to let my vicious attack dogs roam free on that space during the protests, right? Perhaps I should be allowed to spray pesticides on every square inch of grass in that public space? Maybe I should be allowed to excavate all the earth from that space, after all - it's public land, and I'm a member of the public.

Point being: No one person, or small group of people, is allowed to decide how public land will be used.