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Police Chief: Protesters need permit to assemble

By Shavonne Walker and Elizabeth Cook

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

elizabeth.cook@salisburypost.com

After allowing two groups to hold spontaneous demonstrations Sunday, Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins said Monday afternoon that anyone who gathers for a demonstration in the future must get a permit from the Police Department.

People organizing protests, demonstrations and rallies will be required to obtain a permit per city ordinance, Collins said, to ensure safety.

Scott Teamer, local NAACP president, had 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.”
Though a city ordinance requires groups to get a permit at least 48 hours in advance, police allowed both Sunday demonstrations to go on without permits, Collins said, because the demonstrations were peaceful and the ordinance is under review.
(A third demonstration occurred Monday night, also without a permit.)

Collins said he was in talks with the N.C. School of Government Monday to determine if, constitutionally, the city can require permits for people who gather to express their right to free speech. The chief said representatives from the school told him the ordinance is “restrictive” and “outdated.”

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 Sunday, 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 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.

Dionte Tillman, whose uncle, Greg Vanzant, organized the second Sunday demonstration, denies the men were cursing and shouting racial slurs. Tillman said the men gathered were shouting the same three phrases over and over — “black power,” “wake up now,” and “black lives matter.” The men, who numbered over two dozen, carried the same words on handwritten signs.

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.

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.

Tillman said the loud music was played by passing motorists who repeatedly drove by. He said the first female officer on the scene asked if they had a permit. He said a second female officer told the men they needed a permit and would have to leave.

Tillman said when a person in the group inquired from the second female officer if the first group of protesters were asked the same question, they were told by the officer the first group had a permit.

Tillman said he left because they were asked to leave, but others in the group stayed longer. He added that at the time he was not aware the first group of demonstrators did not have a permit, but was made aware on Monday.

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.

Tillman said the protest sparked both opposition and support on social media from multiple races of people.

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