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City Cracks Down On Protests At Shareholder Meetings

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police will have a heightened presence and increased power to deal with protests at Duke Energy's annual shareholder meeting this Thursday and Bank of America's meeting next week. The city manager has designated both meetings "extraordinary events." The Charlotte City Council created the "extraordinary event" designation to help police handle large crowds at Speed Street and 4th of July Spectacular, as well as the high-profile security demands related to the Democratic National Convention. Applying the same level of police power to a corporate shareholder meeting is excessive, says attorney Ken Davies, who represents Occupy Charlotte. "It's just a horrible example of the City of Charlotte and city attorneys kow-towing to corporate interests over the right of people to assemble and to express free speech," says Davies. Compared to the 400,000 people who mill around uptown during Speed Street, corporate shareholder meetings are sleepy affairs. Typically a few hundred people listen quietly to long speeches as several dozen protesters chant on the sidewalk outside. But the annual meetings of both Duke and Bank of America have seen more animated protests in recent years. Given the national focus on Charlotte as the DNC approaches, the city is taking no chances. "Extraordinary event" designation means police can question and detain people within a one or two block perimeter of both shareholder meetings if they are carrying backpacks, glass containers, permanent markers and anything that could cause harm when thrown. "These ordinances are clearly designed to suppress and intimidate," says Davies. CMPD Deputy Chief Harold Medlock says the ordinance is not about "intimidation." It's about "interaction." "It just gives us the ability to be more interactive with people," says Medlock. "That's really what it comes down to. You can carry some of those restricted items anywhere in Charlotte - we just don't want them in an area that we believe will be a demonstration zone. It just becomes dangerous." The lengthy list of prohibited items for an "extraordinary event" also includes paint guns, box cutters, pepper spray and body armor. Medlock says people carrying items on the list for legitimate, legal reasons will not be detained.