January 4, 2012
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the City Attorney presented ordinance changes to Charlotte City Council Tuesday night – changes they believe are necessary to keep residents, politicians and visitors safe during the Democratic National Convention.
In a proposal generated by Charlotte’s city attorney and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are suggested changes to city ordinances that would ban everything from water guns to pepper spray at the DNC. Other changes would prohibit anyone from setting up tables, ladders or stages that might obstruct traffic.
Perhaps the most controversial section of the proposal, which was based on a model established by Denver (the city that hosted the 2008 DNC), is a flat ban on camping out. Members of the Occupy Charlotte movement said they feel like they are being targeted.
“We must recognize and protect the act of camping out as protest,” said Scottie Wingfield. “I assert that Occupy Charlotte’s physical assembly is protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech and free assembly.”
Picketers and protesters wouldn’t be allowed to have large backpacks that could conceal weapons. They wouldn’t be allowed to wear masks or scarves that would intentionally hide their identity. And there would be no tents and tarps allowed on public property.
Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon also questioned the constitutionality of the proposal. However, Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann assured him that was considered before the proposal was presented to Council.
Each city that has held a convention in the past three election cycles has been sued on First Amendment grounds. Hagemann said he expects Charlotte might be sued as well, but the city will be prepared to fight it. His office has been studying case law and trying to learn from the experiences of past convention hosts.
In 2008, Denver hosted the DNC and hired an outside law firm to handle some of its legal matters. Hagemann said his office will attempt to handle any potential lawsuits in-house.
There will be a public hearing on the changes next week and then a vote on January 23.