Stop City of Memphis

from Criminalizing Free Speech

by George Boyington

Stop City of Memphis

from Criminalizing Free Speech

by George Boyington

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Last Tuesday, at the November 21st meeting of the Memphis City Council,

an ordinance was introduced to amend the process for permitting parades, races, and public assemblies. It passed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. It will be presented again to the full General Body of the Memphis City Council on Tuesday, December 5th. On Saturday, November 25th, an informational Town Hall style meeting occurred where citizens provided their feedback on how they felt about this measure, what they thought should be done to combat it, and what a reasonable process for public assembly, parades, and races should look like.

Last Tuesday, at the November 21st meeting of the Memphis City Council,

an ordinance was introduced to amend the process for permitting parades, races, and public assemblies. It passed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. It will be presented again to the full General Body of the Memphis City Council on Tuesday, December 5th. On Saturday, November 25th, an informational Town Hall style meeting occurred where citizens provided their feedback on how they felt about this measure, what they thought should be done to combat it, and what a reasonable process for public assembly, parades, and races should look like.

The City of Memphis has asserted in this process that they need enhanced powers to protect against disruptive 5K races. However, this ordinance is an affront to freedom of speech, public assembly, and expression guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The Constitution reads, in part, that Congress cannot make any law “…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…”. Through subsequent court rulings, it has been upheld that the First Amendment applies to state and local government also.

The legislation making it’s way through our Memphis City council is unconstitutional because it infringes upon the aforementioned First Amendment protections. It has so many different parts that infringe upon the freedom of Memphians; but I’ll list some of the worst. A significant portion of this legislation comes from prior statutes. I’ve heard city officials present that as a defense. Bad policies, whether enacted or proposed, are still bad policies.

Many clauses in the legislation, broad enough to apply to myriad pre-planned gatherings of one or more persons in public spaces, can be construed to mean that groups must apply for a permit to assemble no less than 90, but no more than 180 days, before they plan to gather- and pay increased permitting fees for the privilege. In fairness, there are exemptions built into the legislation… such as a new seven day waver for events resulting from news or affairs that occur within a seven day period prior to the event. However, the interpretation of, and approval for any “spontaneous occurrence” exemptions need to have the Director of Police’s concurrence.

Moreover, the Director of Police enjoys broad powers under this and previous statutes. The Director of Police can cancel any event permit he chooses- subject to a cumbersome appeals process before the City Council. It is important to note that the interpretation of what is, and isn’t disruptive is also up to the Police Director. Quite literally, you can be denied permission to assemble because the Police Director believes that what you’re doing has the potential to be disruptive. Who doesn’t have the potential to be disruptive?

But wait,

it get’s worse.

The Police Director is affirmed powers to charge event organizers for the cost of police protection at events; costs for law enforcement that have already been budgeted for by the Memphis City Council and are paid for already by your tax dollars. It’s truly a punitive measure that, at the option of the Police Director, can be exerted towards any march, parade, or public assembly.

Yet, it get’s worse still. It appears as though the City of Memphis is attempting to affirm an ability to criminally charge any person present within a city-determined zone public gatherings, at the option of the City of Memphis, with disorderly conduct.

In addition, the Police Director is affirmed to have powers contrary to the 4th amendment, which reads “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” The City of Memphis, under this proposed statute, has the right to conduct metal detector searches of anyone located in an area deemed by the City of Memphis to be part of the event site.

Finally, the City of Memphis is authorized to utilize undercover officers, ostensibly to “forestall public disorder.” It doesn’t specify how or when the Director is able to implement such measures. During an event only? During the planning of an event? In groups that regularly plan events? In groups that may plan an event?

Honestly, there really shouldn’t be a permits process in the current iteration. Any process whereby citizens have to ask for permission from government to peaceably assemble subject to broad powers of denial should be opposed. Most importantly, fines and fees shouldn’t be levied towards nonviolent gatherings, and the risk of jail shouldn’t exist.

Honestly, there really shouldn’t be a permits process in the current iteration. Any process whereby citizens have to ask for permission from government to peaceably assemble subject to broad powers of denial should be opposed. Most importantly, fines and fees shouldn’t be levied towards nonviolent gatherings, and the risk of jail shouldn’t exist.

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Constitutionally, courts are nearly united in the fact that government does indeed have a right to be informed about the occurrence of events. And that makes since. The police are duty bound to protect citizens, whenever they choose to peaceably congregate in public. And police are needed protect lives, prevent violence, secure private property, etc. Just the same, in no way should any law enforcement agent or government bureaucrat decide whether or not you are allowed to gather and express yourself. That’s unequivocally wrong.

This Tuesday, November 28th at 3 PM, the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens is hosting a press conference at Memphis City Hall to release the findings of the public hearing as provided by the citizen-attendees. I will be present as your Tennessee Young Democrats Grassroots Caucus Vice Chair, detailing the legislative and political next steps that were asked for by citizens and Memphis’ grassroots activist community. Also present will be stakeholder advocates, there to discuss the implications of this legislation and other previous infringements upon the first amendment by the City of Memphis since January of 2016.

Please continue to follow this issue, and show up at the next meeting of the Memphis City Council on Tuesday, December 5th.”

Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens

is hosting a press conference at Memphis City Hall

This Tuesday, November 28th at 3 PM, Click to follow the event on Facebook!

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