CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The city hosting this year’s Democratic National Convention may ban camping on city property, a move that would disband an ongoing Occupy Charlotte demonstration.
The proposed new ordinances unveiled to Charlotte’s City Council on Tuesday also would forbid protesters from carrying items such as box cutters, pepper spray, body armor and gas masks. The changes were proposed after the city’s attorney and police department reviewed crowd-control ordinances ahead of the Democratic convention.
Demonstrators would be required to apply for a permit during an “extraordinary event” when “a large-scale special event of national or international significance” promises to attract large numbers of protesters. Groups selected through a lottery process would be allowed to protest the DNC.
Another change would outlaw possession of any “noxious” substance like garbage, trash, animal parts, manure or urine with the intent to use it to interfere with a lawful assembly or with those entering or leaving a place.
The rules are modeled after action taken in Denver before the 2008 Democratic convention.
The City Council holds a public hearing on the ordinances Monday and is scheduled to vote Jan. 23.
One change would prohibit using city property for sleeping, making preparations to sleep, storing personal belongings, erecting tents or temporary shelter, or using a campfire or bonfire on public property. Occupy Charlotte demonstrators took advantage of a loophole in existing city ordinances, which prohibit camping in city parks except in areas classified as “public forums.”
Occupy Charlotte has had a round-the-clock presence outside the old City Hall building on a major downtown street since October. While the protests in one of the country’s banking centers could continue, demonstrators would have to disband each night and regroup each day.
The group’s site is key to being able to share its message, said Scottie Wingfield, one of dozens of protestors camped out in central Charlotte. The group blames the nation’s wealth disparities on the richest Americans and their control of business and politics.
“East Trade Street is so important especially approaching the DNC because all the public parks have been reserved by the DNC, so where else are people going to demonstrate?” Wingfield asked City Council members.
The changes don’t violate the First Amendment, though the city is likely to be challenged in court as other convention cities have been, City Attorney Bob Hagemann told council members.
“We are geared up to defend the decisions you make,” Hagemann said.
Attorneys for the city and police department contacted North Carolina’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union late Tuesday, and ACLU legal director Katy Parker said Wednesday she hopes the city will consider the group’s concerns.
“It seems like the ordinances build in way too much discretion on the part of the police,” Parker said. “Even though the provisions look pretty innocuous, it looks to me like the ordinances are set up to allow the police to do just about anything they want at any time.”
For example, officials can wait 20 days before deciding whether to grant a protest permit, decide how many police are needed to oversee the assembly and then charge demonstrators for police and fire costs, Parker said.
Don Faix said he will lobby council members on behalf of the Occupy Charlotte movement to ask them to allow the group to keep its campsite.
“We hope there can be a win-win,” Faix said.
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