South Carolina

After Charlottesville, Myrtle Beach looking at big changes to protest laws

AP

Myrtle Beach could start charging protests organizers for having police at demonstrations.

City council approved a first reading of a new set of laws regulating protests. The ordinance, passed unanimously, would go into effect with a second passage. It also allows for police to separate protestors and counter-protestors by at least 50 yards, and requires permits for events including 25 people or more.

Previously, police only required 48-hour notice for picketing and demonstrations of 30 people or more.

“Obviously it’s a reaction to what’s going on nationally,” City Manager John Pedersen said.

The decision to re-examine the city’s protest laws comes after events like the Aug. 12 protest in Charlottesville, Va., where white nationalists and counter-protestors clashed, leading to one death and multiple injuries.

Smaller demonstrations that do not block pedestrians or traffic would not require a permit, and do not currently require prior notice.

The new ordinance also bans certain items in all public processions and picketing, whether or not they require a permit:

  • Firearms (except in some military appreciation events)
  • Ammunition
  • Shields and body armor
  • Objects that can launch projectiles or stab, cut and slice
  • Solid objects capable of inflicting bodily harm

A special events committee would approve the permits, with city council retaining the ability to override that panel’s decision.

“The city attorney has looked at other ordinances from other jurisdictions that have withstood legal challenges, and it’s based on that,” Pedersen said.

Councilman Mike Lowder, a former Myrtle Beach police officer, said he was supportive of the measure.

“I think the ordinance speaks for itself,” he said.

Typically, Myrtle Beach charges a flat rate of $35 per hour per police officer when they’re used for events like festivals or parades. City staff will re-examine that rate to see if it is still covering the cost, Pedersen said. Special event organizers are already responsible for covering the cost of police officers’ time when they hold an event in town.

However, city council often ends up waiving in-kind fees—those for police, emergency medical services and barricades, for example—for large events that bring lots of people to town, like the Carolina Country Music Festival.

Ashley Landess, president of the South Carolina Policy Council, a Columbia-based think tank, said charging for police and other services would make larger demonstrations too costly for most people.

“Charging protestors for police protection is going to have a chilling affect, and that’s what it’s designed to do,” Landess said.

She added, “Who’s able to come up with that kind of money, for a simple protest?”

But Lowder said charging for public services is typical.

“Any event, unless it’s co-sponsored, there’s a charged rate for city services,” he said.

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ

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