Thursday, May 1, 2014

Extraordinary Misuse of "Extraordinary Event" Powers

So, I am getting a hot dog for lunch at the Chili Man in Uptown today - waiting on one of the best hot dogs you'll ever taste while enjoying Vic the Chile Man's running stand up routine - when what do I see coming my way?  A protest, a good old fashioned protest complete with banners, chants and marching down the sidewalk.
These good folks were there apparently to express their discontent with Duke Power over the infamous Dan River coal ash spill.  You see, Duke was having its shareholder meeting today and these people just wanted to exercise their rights as Americans to protest.
They may have worn some silly costumes, made inappropriate use of the American Flag, and suffered challenges with letter spacing on their main banner (notice the small S at the end of "DEMANDs"), but hey, they were just there to have a good time and give Duke some well deserved grief.
What did they face?
The totally overzealous activation of Charlotte's "extraordinary event" ordinance, that's what.  Charlotte busted out its draconian security measures implemented for the DNC in 2012 for a protest that had maybe 30 people by the time the marchers had reached the Square at Trade and Tryon.  This ordinance allows for greatly expanded search authority for just about any reason.  For a protest like this, implementing the policy seemed more designed to intimidate than protect.
What you don't see off to the sides of these pictures other than the security tower are the multiple squads of bicycle mounted police shadowing this group.  There were easily more police than protesters.  (I didn't take any pictures of that because frankly I had just come out for a hot dog and didn't have time to deal with possibly running afoul of some nebulous ordinance.)
Why does any of this matter? 
"It was just a precaution," you might be saying.  Or, "nobody was accosted by the officers, so it doesn't really matter".
While true, those thoughts miss a larger point.
For the DNC, every town in the area passed an ordinance like the one Charlotte has.  It's an ordinance designed to handle truly large events that truly might get out of control.  Not something like was seen today.  The authority to implement these powers rests with the unelected city or town managers in the municipalities.  That's a lot of authority to hand over to someone not accountable to the voters.
After seeing its misuse today, our local governing boards should reconsider the criteria for activating such ordinances to ensure they are truly for "extraordinary events".  Along those lines, wielding such authority should require elected officials to go on record with an explicit approval whenever possible.
Earlier post on Davidson's Extraordinary Event ordinance:

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