I wrote this letter to the Charlotte City Council and Mayor Jennifer Roberts today, and I am republishing it here now for the sake of continued public discourse on this important topic.
Mayor Roberts, Mayor Pro Tem Lyles and Members of the Council,
I am writing to ask that you fully repeal the Extraordinary Events Ordinance (EEO) and that you reject the proposed amendments to the city codes on public assemblies and gatherings.
My opinions in this letter are personal, and I write them in my personal capacity as a citizen, a voter and a duly-appointed member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee, through which it is my responsibility as both an individual and a member of the larger collective Committee, to advise you on community relations issues in our great city and county. My opinions, though personal, are also informed by my individual experience as a member of the Charlotte Pride Board of Directors, where I have served in some capacity for nearly a decade. Though Charlotte Pride has not taken a position on the latest discussions regarding the EEO repeal or revisions, Charlotte Pride did take a position last year on the EEO.
At the time, Charlotte Pride was the first and it remains to date the only organization presenting a major annual Uptown event to have issued concerns regarding the EEO. I don’t think this is a coincidence, given that Charlotte Pride’s largest activity each year — the annual festival and parade — is itself a commemoration of a rebellion by citizens against unfair and violent police harassment and legal oppression. That publicly-stated position last August noted concern about how the EEO and general police powers are often unfairly used to profile or target people of color and members of the LGBT community — concerns which foreshadowed and were seen in full display, and which I also personally witnessed, in the later interactions between police and protesters during and after the Charlotte Uprising in the fall.
(As a side note here: I have seen it reported that the city consulted with various stakeholders when discussing these changes. I do not know personally of a single organization, including Charlotte Pride and representatives of the Charlotte Uprising, which had previously issued concerns regarding the EEO which has been seriously consulted in this process of review and revision. In addition to the upcoming Community Relations Committee forum, I urge Council members and city staff to do better, more intentional outreach and consult with those who have grave concerns over the EEO and the proposed changes to the city code.)
It is an unmistakable reality that there exists an institutional bias and profiling of racial and other minorities, including LGBT people, by law enforcement officers and organizations. Unnecessarily expanded police powers exacerbate this problem. Additionally, expanded police powers which violate certainly the spirit, if not the letter, of the Fourth Amendment can be applied in unfair ways which target minorities and result in a chilling effect on First Amendment rights. This is not only a local problem, as it is an institutional and systemic issue nationwide, but with the memory of the Charlotte Uprising fresh in our minds, taking up this expansion of local law enforcement power now, especially without proper consultation with community members, seems unwise.
We have ready evidence of unfair and uneven application of local laws, as well as the unfair and uneven respect of the First and Fourth Amendment rights of our citizens and residents. In just one example, there has been a repeatedly demonstrated disparate treatment of minority protesters, both people of color and those who are LGBT, throughout the Charlotte Uprising and in the resulting past few months when compared to the often hands-off approach taken with groups of primarily white and heterosexual protesters who gather at a local women’s clinic each weekend. Though these groups of largely white and heterosexual protesters often violate several city codes and state and federal laws, there are ever few if any arrests, citations or other legal consequences. On the other hand, for protesters who have largely been people of color or LGBT, local law enforcement has been quick to perform unnecessary and intrusive searches and detainments, issue citations, undertake arrests and file criminal charges, even when the actual behavior of these two different groups of protesters do not differ in any significant way. Given this recent and ongoing, unresolved history and pattern, I do not think it is an unfair expectation that generally applying many of the EEO’s restrictions and prohibitions to all protests, pickets, festivals, demonstrations and public assemblies creates a situation in which the restrictions will be used to target, intentionally or not, the speech of minorities — precisely because this kind of unfair and uneven application has already been occurring with seemingly no publicly accountable effort to stop it by city or CMPD officials.
Debate over this EEO is not new. This Council has heard concerns about its potential for violations of First and Fourth Amendment rights since it was first debated in the lead up to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Nearly six years later, we’ve seen how the powers in the EEO can and have been abused by law enforcement. We have seen an ordinance designed for rare usage turn into an instrument used to regulate nearly every event which occurs in Uptown.
I have a tremendous respect for this city, this City Council and for the leadership and officers of CMPD. I have worked closely with many local city bodies and agencies, including the police department. I respect that many individuals are still learning how institutional bias and prejudice has a dramatic impact on the daily lives of minorities who interact with law enforcement and other government institutions. I hope that these lessons continue to be learned. I have full faith and confidence in CMPD’s ability to keep our community safe without the unnecessary addition of powers which often serve to undermine the safety, as well as the First and Fourth Amendment rights, of minorities.
There is only one way City Council can fully respect and ensure the guarantees of the First and Fourth Amendments for all citizens and residents in this city: The EEO must be repealed in its entirety and the related proposed amendments to city ordinances must be rejected.
Community Forum on Extraordinary Events Ordinance
Per the Community Relations Committee: The Community Relations Committee will host a public forum for community members to discuss the potential repeal of the city’s Extraordinary Events Ordinance and amendments to the Picketing and Public Assembly Ordinances.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney and City Attorney Bob Hagemann will be in attendance to provide details about the ordinances and potential changes. Attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions and share feedback.
Interested parties may RSVP as an individual or as part of an organization. Please note that only three representatives per organization are permitted to attend as space is limited.
Tuesday, June 6, 6-8 p.m., The Belmont Center