Monday, January 9, 2012

How far should government go for safety?

Charlotte's City Council must tiptoe along a fine line when deciding the rules that will govern protesters during the Democratic National Convention. Council members must fully respect protesters' First Amendment rights while also preventing any kind of violence or disturbances that infringe on the rights of other citizens.

The council will hold a public hearing at 6:30 tonight on several proposed changes to city ordinances. Observer reporter Steve Harrison details the changes well in a story this morning.

Most of the proposed rules look sensible to us: It's certainly reasonable to ban protesters from having paint guns, bars, chains, pipes, handcuffs, bricks, fireworks and the like.

We like that the city is considering a designated "protest zone" but also would allow picketing on city sidewalks, as long as those protests don't obstruct cars or pedestrians. It's important, though, that the designated zone be somewhere near the action, not banished to Lancaster.

The City Council needs to look closely, though, at at least two changes that could quickly be abused. Under the new rules, Section 19-313, subsection (g) (6) would prohibit "a backpack, duffle bag, satchel, cooler or other item carried with the intent to conceal weapons or other prohibited items."

And subsection (g) (12) would prohibit "A mask or scarf worn with the intent to hide one's identity while commiting a crime."

This could open the door for even innocent bystanders to be forced to hand over their personal bags. There's no way for a police officer to distinguish a backpack with a student's books in it from one used to conceal a weapon. And what distinguishes a fashionable scarf from one that might be pulled up at any moment to cover one's face during a crime?

And these rules would be in place for other big events, not just the DNC.

The City Council and City Attorney Bob Hagemann are doing a lot right here, but need to look at each provision closely to consider how it could be abused.

What do you think? Take our poll at the top right of this page.

-- Taylor Batten


Skippy said...

You Democrats made this bed, now lay in the stink. Hypocrites.

heavymetal said...

Taylor? Wearing a mask in public if over the age of 16 is already against the law, why not just enforce it?

§14-12.7. Wearing of masks, hoods, etc., on public ways.
No person or persons at least 16 years of age shall, while wearing any mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, enter, be or appear upon any lane, walkway, alley, street, road, highway or other public way in this State. (1953, c. 1193, s. 6; 1983, c. 175, ss. 1, 10; c. 720, s. 4.)

§14-12.8. Wearing of masks, hoods, etc., on public property.
No person or persons shall in this State, while wearing any mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, enter, or appear upon or within the public property of any municipality or county of the State, or of the State of North Carolina. (1953, c. 1193, s. 7.)

Garth Vader said...

The United States is a "protest zone".