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Charlotte Area

Charlotte Council Seeks Public Input on New Rules for Protests

A series of new city ordinances aimed at public protests will get a hearing tonight at the Charlotte City Council meeting. The immediate effect of the ordinance would be an end to the Occupy Charlotte encampment at old City Hall. As soon as Charlotte was awarded the 2012 Democratic National Convention, city attorneys and police began looking at what ordinances may need to be tightened in advance of the big event. But city attorney Bob Hagemann says camping on public property was not initially on the radar. "To be honest with you, until the Occupy Movement began last fall and spread across the country, it never occurred to us that a group would express their viewpoint through camping," says Hagemann. Occupy Charlotte protesters have had their tents and sleeping bags out at old City Hall for more than two months now. They'll have to clear out as soon as the new no-camping-on-public-property-ordinance is approved by the City Council. Hagemann's office is also recommending a more comprehensive list of things the public is prohibited from carrying at protests and parades. Pepper spray, paint guns, fireworks and box cutters, for example. Picketers will also be prohibited from barricading a street. "These are - I think to most people - pretty common sense items," says Hagemann. "We just took the opportunity to be very explicit. And frankly, it gives law enforcement the tools to act as they see people preparing to do these things, rather than waiting until there's an obstruction or an actual problem." Hagemann says the changes balance public safety with the First Amendment rights of protesters and mirror ordinances adopted by other political convention host cities. The City Council will hear public comment on the proposals tonight at 7 and likely vote on January 23.