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Occupy Charlotte blasts city's crowd control plan; vote comes tonight

Gathering at the camp site at 600 East Trade Street for the 3PM rally.
Gathering at the camp site at 600 East Trade Street for the 3PM rally.
Angela Boatright-Spencer

Charlotte, NC – Jan. 23, 2012: The City Council is to vote tonight on a crowd control ordinance that could change how demonstrations are held in Charlotte -- and some of the Queen City’s residents are far from pleased. Yesterday, members of Charlotte’s Occupy Wall Street movement and its supporters marched in the bitter cold to protest the proposed plan. The council says the ordinance, which prohibits carrying items such as backpacks or coolers, is a safety measure designed to provide maximum security during the upcoming Democratic National Convention. But if that event, to be held September 3-6, 2012, is the reason for the ordinance, Occupy Charlotte says, why isn't the ordinance a temporary measure? They say the proposal is an infringement upon the right to free speech.

A tiny protestor's buggy is declared a Free Speech Zone
Photo by A. Boatright-Spencer

"The mayor and city council have told the public these ordinances are necessary for the DNC, “ organizer Michael J. Zytlow told the crowd of about 30 people, gathered, ironically, across from Independence Center at East trade and North Tryon. “What they have not told you, is that not only are these rules on track to be implemented eight months ahead of the DNC, but they will remain permanently thereafter. Long after those affiliated with or protesting the DNC have left our city, Charlotteans will be left with a set of laws that will permanently limit our ability to express ourselves at parades, festivals, and protests.”

The Charlotte Observer reported on January 20th that the council has “tweaked” the ordinance to grant“police extra search powers only when the ‍city deems there is an ‘extraordinary event.’ ” Specifically, the measure would prohibit:

· Having on your person: padlocks, chains, helmets, noxious substances and body armor.

· Carrying backpacks, satchels or coolers

What is troubling to some is the subjective nature of the proposed rule. According to the proposed ordinance, the items listed above are prohibited “if police believe they are being used to carry or hide weapons.” How, some question, is a police officer to know whether someone is wearing a head scarf for warmth or to hide identity? As one protestor’s sign stated, “the police are not mind readers.”

“The mayor and city council claim your possession of these items will only result in an arrest based on how you intend to use them. Littered throughout the ordinances is this vague notion of intent. It will be left to each police officer to decide the intent of the possessor,” Zytkow said. “Our local elected officials tell us not to worry, that the police will be trained in proper enforcement. But what about issues of selective enforcement, misunderstanding of the law, and police discrimination?”

Zytkow said, “Members of Occupy Charlotte have been harassed and threatened with arrest for wearing scarves, while others wearing scarves strolled by. Two individuals were arrested for jaywalking as they walked towards an Occupy Charlotte rally, while other Charlotteans and tourists were seen jaywalking nearby. Officers have told Occupiers not to put their signs on the ground, not even for a moment, or they would be charged with littering.”

The movement also is concerned that the ordinance, once on the books, could be used to prosecute the city’s homeless population. “These ordinances also have the potential to affect a part of our population that lives much of their lives on the sidewalks of Charlotte. They could essentially criminalize homelessness,” Zytkow said. “Under these ordinances, the homeless could be arrested for building temporary shelters, or sleeping on any public property. They would be banned from carrying anything ‘foul or offensive to human beings’ such as trash or garbage. Unfortunately, the homeless might possess items seen as trash or garbage by others. They carry much of what they own in their backpacks. Some of these individuals are dealing with mental health issues, making the challenge of reading their intentions all the more difficult. The homeless do not have proper access to legal counsel or other forms of assistance and may not be able to afford hefty fines. Will they stay in jail at the expense of the taxpayers? Police may well use this ordinance in an attempt to clear out the homeless.”

The council vote is scheduled for 7PM tonigt in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.

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Want to know more about the Occupy movement? Stop by the Dillworth Grill (corner of McDowell and Morehead Sts), next Saturday for a breakfast meeting, 8:30-10:30AM. The charge is $20.00.

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