DNC security rules trigger free speech worries

By Mitch Weiss

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 1 2012 1:51 a.m. MDT

One way for an officer to determine whether an opaque bag held by a person contains a prohibited item would be to search it.

But if the person declines to submit to a warrantless search, which is a citizen's protected right, the officer is left to either let the person go or decide that the person is intending to conceal any of the dozens of prohibited items. That could trigger an arrest, during which a search could occur.

"I think it's exceptionally difficult to divine whether someone is carrying a backpack for their books or carrying a backpack with the intent to conceal weapons," Brook said. "I think that could easily lead to standardless searches. I think it could easily lead to situations where there is some profiling going on, for example a person wearing a business suit might be far less likely to be searched than some other individuals who might be downtown."

Hagemann said officers will use their training, experience and common sense to enforce the ordinances fairly. He said there could be reasonable suspicion to search someone's bag based on body language or demeanor, or if the bag appears to be especially heavy or have sharp, protruding edges. Possession of knives, chains sticks and pipes are banned the ordinance.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, handguns and rifles are not included in the long list of potential weapons banned by the city. North Carolina state law specifically grants the right to carry firearms in public places, either in plain view or, if the person has a special permit, concealed.

However, Hagemann said that state law doesn't allow guns for those participating in parades or marches, or for spectators of those events.

Since the new ordinances were approved in January, officials have already applied the "extraordinary" designation to other events where protesters were expected, including recent shareholder meetings for Bank of America and Duke Energy. Hagemann said the rules may be revisited after the DNC.

Protest leaders fear some the more than 1,750 Charlotte police officers might abuse their enhanced powers during the convention. Another concern is whether the 3,400 officers on loan from other departments have received adequate training on the Charlotte ordinances.

Mark Newbold, the attorney for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said out-of-town officers received about 2.5 hours of special training for the convention, including 20 minutes on the city's extraordinary event ordinances.

Michael Zytkow, an activist with Occupy Charlotte, was arrested after he spoke beyond his allotted 3 minutes during the meeting where the ordinances were approved. The misdemeanor charge against him was later dropped.

He said he tried to test the new rules at one of the shareholder meetings by wheeling a large cooler filled with water bottles down the sidewalk. He said the police left him alone.

"I think this is an attempt to vilify protesters," he said of the ordinances. "I think it's an attempt to prevent us from coming out and joining and expressing our rights to march on the street and express our grievances."

Follow AP Writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck

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