City Says It's Reviewing 5-Yr. Old Extraordinary Events Ordinance
Charlotte officials are taking a long look at the city's five-year-old "Extraordinary Event" ordinance. They're trying to gauge whether it works and how it's being used. Critics say it's too stringent and used too often.
Charlotte City Council passed the ordinance in January 2012, in the midst of Occupy Charlotte protests and eight months before the Democratic National Convention. The idea was to prevent trouble by giving police more leeway to ask questions and search back packs and bags for weapons.
It was supposed to be used a few times a year, for events of "national or international significance." It would also include Fourth of July fireworks and the Speed Street festival.
Instead, city managers have declared extraordinary events 41 times in five years - at least 13 of those last year. That worries civil liberties advocates like Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.
“We've become concerned over the course of the years, and what we were concerned about at the outset, was that events that are really commonplace have been deemed extraordinary events."
They include shareholder meetings at Duke Energy and Bank of America, football games, the Thanksgiving parade, and the city's gay pride festival. In some cases, city officials pointed to violence elsewhere as a reason for the declarations.
At a Panthers game following the Keith Scott shooting in September, police operating under the ordinance corralled protesters in an intersection as fans arrived. Four people were arrested for various extraordinary event violations. One had a gun, and one a gas mask, which the ordinance prohibits.
On Jan. 23, a half-dozen speakers urged the city council to repeal the law, including Charlottean Sarah Linn.
“Citizens passing within the broad and unmarked boundaries of an event can be stopped, questioned and searched for a long and vague list of prohibited items without normal constitutional safeguards, and possession of even normal items ... which would include this Sharpie,” Linn said, holding up a marker.
Speaker Sebastian Feculak complained that the law allows stop-and-frisk practices that can unfairly target certain groups.
Now the city is reviewing the ordinance, at the direction of City Manager Marcus Jones. At that council meeting, Jones told council members that he had questions of his own when he was asked to sign a declaration shortly after he took over in December.
“I've asked staff to examine how it's been used, once again, whether it's been effective, and if there's anything we should do to change or not have it,” Jones said.
Jones says he'll come back to the council with a recommendation later. A spokeswoman says the review should be done by the end of this month.
Read the Extraordinary Event ordinance on the city website.
See the declaration for the Sept. 24, 2016 Panthers game, http://charlottenc.gov/newsroom/Documents/ExtraordinaryEvent092416.pdf