Proposed Ordinance to License Protests
I have recieved a number of phone calls and emails recently from people concerned about a new ordinance that has been proposed by City staff, which would regulate protests. I do not support this proposal and have advocated against it.
On August 8, a number of community members attended a meeting of the Free Speech Work Group, which I helped create earlier this year to address potential free speech issues related to the upcoming 2008 Republican National Concvention, at which the new ordinance was on the agenda for discussion. There seemed to be some confusion as to where the proposed ordinance had come from. It was drafted by City staff from the Regulatory Services department and the City Attorney's Office, not at the direction of the Work Group. When the policymakers on the group learned of its existence we asked, through the Work Group's chair CM Ostrow, that staff bring these ideas to us for our review.
When I proposed this working group, I pushed for it to include representatives of the ACLU and other defenders of constitutional liberties. You can see the Work Group's operating principles, which the Council approved on August 3, here. I’m one of three Council Members serving on this group (CMs Ostrow and Remington are full members and I am an alternate). I have also been pushing (unsuccessfully at first) to make sure that all of the meetings of this group are open to the public. I am hopeful that they will be in the future.
I believe that the way the discussion of this proposed ordinance has evolved shows the value of having this Work Group. Reacting to a perceived need for greater control of protests during the RNC 2008 Convention, staff drafted an ordinance for discussion. At the meeting of the Work Group, Council Members Remington and I, as well as the civil libertarians included in the group and representatives of protest organizations, clearly told staff that the draft ordinance is 1) unnecessary, 2) counterproductive and 3) most likely unconstitutional.
Here’s a brief discussion of these three points:
1) I believe that City of Minneapolis employees can effectively and respectfully deal with the issues arising from nonviolent protests without new laws.
2) Giving police officers the authority and, arguably, the responsibility to break up unpermitted or unlicensed protests opens a pandora’s box of unforeseen negative outcomes, and will only serve to overburden our law enforcement systems, which will presumably be taxed to the maximum during the 2008 Convention even without the proposed changes.
3) This is especially important: the only characteristic that distinguishes between a group of 25 nonviolent antiwar protestors and 25 Twins fans on their way into the Metrodome is the content of their speech. The City does not, in my opinion, have a compelling reason to enforce rules against the former and not the latter – they have the same impacts on pedestrian and vehicle traffic and etc.
I personally prefer that Minneapolis follow the Washington DC model that our representative from the ACLU has alerted us to: a free and voluntary protest registration process, with no requirements for protests to be licensed or permitted, provide proof of insurance, etc.
Two other good things that came out of our last meeting include the direction that the ACLU lawyer will sit down and discuss these issues with the City attorney and we will review and discuss the “D.C. approach” at an upcoming meeting.