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Weekend protests spark questions about permit process

By Shavonne Walker and Elizabeth Cook

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

elizabeth.cook@salisburypost.com

Weekend protests in Salisbury have sparked questions about whether those who gather should be required to obtain permits from police.

Scott Teamer, local NAACP president, today questioned why police did not require a white group that rallied around the Confederate monument Sunday to have a permit. An African-American group that rallied later in the day on East Innes Street did not have a permit, either, he said.

Considering the national climate following the murder of nine people at an African-American church in Charleston, Teamer said, neither demonstration was a good idea.
“We got a process,” Teamer said. Now, of all times, the city should enforce its laws, he said. “We are in racial tension.”
Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins said a city ordinance does require demonstrating groups to get a permit through the Police Department at least 48 hours in advance. Police allowed the demonstrations to go on anyway, he said, because they were peaceful and the ordinance is under review.

Collins said the police department believes the ordinance may be a violation of the Constitution. He said he has been in talks with the N.C. School of Government today to determine if, constitutionally, the city can require permits for people who gather to express their right to free speech.

He said the issue of constitutionality came up long before this past weekend.

“I’d much rather err on the side of caution and not violate someone’s constitutional rights,” the police chief said. “I recognize everyone has the right to free speech and to demonstrate and we will do everything we can to support it, but it’s my obligation to make sure they are safe.”

Teamer and others also questioned the heavy police presence at the East Innes counter-demonstration, which drew six to seven police cars. Only one officer was dispatched to oversee the group around the Confederate monument.
“There’s disparity there,” Teamer said, adding that it was evidence of poor city leadership.

Collins said that police received a phone call from a passerby who said six black males gathered at the East Innes intersection were cursing and shouting racial slurs at passing motorists. Several officers responded because of the nature of the disorderly conduct call, not because the men were African-American, Collins said.

A video posted online shows a female officer approach the men, tell them she was responding to a call of disorderly conduct and ask if they had permit.

Collins said technically the officer was right in asking if they had a permit. What the video does not show, according to Collins, is that a supervisor later approached the men and told them they could stay as long as they stayed on the sidewalk and did not impede traffic.

The men were asked to turn down loud music because they were in violation of the city’s noise ordinance, and they left shortly thereafter, Collins said. At no time were the men asked to leave the area, he said.

After the supervisor informed the men they could stay, only one officer remained on the scene, just as one officer remained on the scene at the earlier protest, the chief said.

Even though the permit ordinance is under review, Collins still recommends that groups apply for a permit if they intend to protest, demonstrate or gather to promote a cause.

“It would be my request to do so. The benefit of the permit is it allows us to know what’s going on, prepare for staffing needs and any logistics that needs to be taken care of and to make it a safe event,” Collins said.

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