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City’s stricter protest laws not used by police during DNC

When the city of Charlotte passed a new “extraordinary events” ordinance for the Democratic National Convention, police were given new power to stop and search.

Activists and civil libertarians were concerned that innocent people could be swept up into a dragnet: People wearing bike helmets, which were prohibited. Workers carrying backpacks or briefcases, which could be searched. People using a chain — also a prohibited item — to secure a bicycle.

But as the DNC came to a close late Thursday night, those fears hadn’t materialized.

By all accounts, the police didn’t apply the ordinance to DNC attendees, or people who came uptown to watch the events.

And the ordinance was rarely applied to protesters, some of whom were allowed to march wearing bandanas covering their faces and helmets — actions and items that were banned under the ordinance.

In addition, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chose not to enforce a county prohibition on camping in parks. The city had passed a ban on camping as part of its extraordinary events ordinance in January.

“So far, so good,” said Michael Zytkow, an Occupy Charlotte leader said Thursday afternoon during a protest at Trade and Tryon streets.

For the most of the convention, Zytkow said police and protester relations were good.

“I have to give credit where credit is due,” he said.

In the lead-up to the DNC, local protesters and the American Civil Liberties Union in Raleigh were concerned that the extraordinary events ordinance could lead to “profiling” of people who looked like activists.

The ACLU was most concerned about the ordinance allowing police to search backpacks if they believed they were being used to conceal or carry weapons or projectiles.

ACLU legal director Chris Brook, who was in Charlotte for the DNC, said he didn’t see the ordinance being applied to people who weren’t protesters.

But he said he saw what he calls two “questionable” backpack searches during a protest march on Wednesday afternoon.

“Those searches left me pretty troubled,” he said. “They had small bags. How could a police officer know why either of the bags would have contained weapons?”

Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann, who helped write the extraordinary events ordinance, said he thought police did a “great job” in striking a balance between protecting First Amendment rights and keeping the public safe.

“I’m very pleased in totality in what I believe was the city’s good job in protecting people’s First Amendment rights,” Hagemann said.

Zytkow said he was concerned by the overwhelming police presence. He also said activists need to make sure CMPD and government officials are “always held accountable.”

“When they leave, we will still fight against the anti-protest ordinance, against the anti-homeless ordinance,” he said.

Brook, of the ACLU, said the Charlotte City Council should consider repealing the extraordinary events ordinance now that the DNC is over.

That’s unlikely to happen. The city has already used the ordinance for other events this year, such as Speed Street and the 4th of July celebrations uptown.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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