City Council Passes "Parade" Legislation to Limit Protesting on City Streets

click to enlarge A fire during the riots in Glenville, 1968 - Cleveland Memory Project
Cleveland Memory Project
A fire during the riots in Glenville, 1968
Wednesday evening, after a daylong Committee of the Whole session, Cleveland City Council passed a piece of legislation that will regulate "parades," a term that now includes public demonstrations.

According to the city, it was important to pass as an emergency measure (without multiple readings and public input) in order to have in place for the first Republican National Debate, which will be held in Cleveland at the Quicken Loans Arena on Aug. 6.

The ordinance will require parades associated with a special event to apply for a permit (with a $25 processing fee) at least 14 days in advance. For parades and protests unaffiliated with a special event, a permit application must be submitted at least four days in advance.   

Council voted 12-4-1 in favor of the overhaul, which does away with the existing parade legislation passed in 2003. Councilmen Jeff Johnson, Zack Reed, TJ Dow and Brian Cummins voted nay, primarily because they hadn't been included in the negotiation process. (Councilman Brian Kazy was absent).

Cummins, on his blog Wednesday night, wrote that he agreed with the ordinance in principle, in particular the fact that permits won't be required for "impromptu demonstrations" and protests on sidewalks, but still voted no.

"Passage of such an ordinance, although intended to help clarify the laws regarding permits and regulations for "parades", when passed without substantive debate and discourse with Cleveland City Council, or members of the public and organizations that have shown active interest in participating in police reform, has an impact of increasing the divide between the City and residents and organizations working for reform," he wrote. "It injures and widens the gap in communications, relations, and trust."

Indeed, members of the protest community, via Twitter, expressed disdain for the new legislation. Even national activists chimed in: 

The sort of impromptu organizing that became part and parcel of the response to the deaths of Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson, and the acquittal of Michael Brelo, however, won't be subject to the same permitting regulations. In those instances, an organizer must contact the Chief of Police eight hours before the demonstration with contact information for an "on-site coordinator" and a description of the proposed route. (See full ordinance here. Pgs. 20-27 in the document — section (f)(2)(B).)

The Chief of Police, however, may still "impose reasonable restrictions" if he feels that the impromptu demonstration will interfere with, among other things the "safe and expeditious movement of pedestrian and vehicular traffic" and "other special events."

Which basically defeats the purpose.

To the best of my knowledge, the whole point of demonstrating in the streets, or the Shoreway, for example, is to impede the expeditious movement of vehicular traffic, to cause a disruption in "business as usual," in the language of the protesters. If you confine demonstrations to street corners or explicitly defined routes, you take away much of their power; not to mention, of course, the fact that you're forcing protesters to participate in one of the very systems they're objecting to.      

What strikes me as the other obvious criticism of the legislation is that it expects a courtesy of protesters, (advance notice), that the various police and prosecutors haven't reciprocated. I.e. They haven't been forthcoming about the time and content of announcements in high-profile cases. Michael Brelo's acquittal, in particular, seemed to have been tactically designed to make dissemination difficult (it arrived very early Saturday morning) and demonstrating as ineffectual as possible (unable to disrupt rush hour traffic). 

To put it another way: If you're going to make citizens' lives harder by killing unarmed black people and prolonging justice — When, for God's sake, can we expect a result in the second or third or fifth Tamir Rice investigation? — please don't expect demonstrators to make your lives easier by telling you exactly when and where they intend to revolt against the atrocities.  

Speaking of revolt: Today marks the 47th anniversary of the Glenville Riots, which raged for several days in July of 1968, but began with a shootout on July 23 that left three police officers and three black nationalists dead. Roldo Bartimole wrote about one account of the riots yesterday, and called the Sandra Bland incident in Texas what it was: the latest in a decades-long series.

If those in the various local protest movements aren't aware of Roldo, you oughtta be. Here he is at the City Club on Dec. 20, 1968, less than six months after the Glenville violence. (I listened to his speech, and the adversarial Q&A, last night, and you should as well. He's a champion.) And he's been preaching the gospel of free speech for forty-plus years.

The reason that certain debates or subject matters are taboo is that we have as a society opted against free speech and thought as too radical for the fragile institutions we cherish.

We, therefore, put acceptable and unacceptable protest into tight categories. It seems that acceptable protest is any kind that will not succeed and unacceptable, any kind that might succeed.

Thus rebellions in the cities, which the press call riots, are unacceptable protest. Picketing is so acceptable now, it doesn’t even attract the TV cameras.

But the protest is rarely put in a context of reality.

Compare, if you will, Thoreau of 1849 and what he said of America, update the language and put it into the mouth of Rap Brown of 1968, and imagine what the New York Times or Huntley-Brinkley would do with it. I quote Thoreau.

"All men recognize the right of revolution. That is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government when its tyranny and its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say now, now is not such the case. But such was the case, they think in the Revolution of ’75. If only one were to tell me that this was a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make much ado about it, for I can do without them. All machines have their friction and possibly this one does enough in return to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about. But when the friction comes to have its own machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us have not such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army and subjected to military law, I think it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize."

And I think Thoreau’s America is Rap Brown’s America. And I think Thoreau’s America is Mr. Arnoni’s America when he says, "As I once with every fiber of my body and mind wished victory to the Americans, British, and French, so do I now with every fiber of my body and mind, wish victory to the Vietnamese people. As I once prayed for the defeat of Hitler and the evil he personified, so I do pray for the defeat of Johnson and the evil he personifies. For their defeat is the victory for the very right to be human."

One has to cultivate dissent and criticism and I’m afraid that America has plowed it underground instead. You don’t cut it down merely by denying it to those with different ideas a platform to speak. But by ridiculing it, punishing it, overwhelming it with nonsense, ignoring it, and making it powerless.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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