Citing First Amendment protections of the right to assemble, the Saint Paul City Council on March 3 withdrew proposed ordinance amendments that would have placed a host of new restrictions on protests, parades, races and other public gatherings.
The amendments were brought forward as a public safety measure in the wake of the protests last year following the death of George Floyd, in advance of the November general election, and in opposition to Governor Tim Walz’s emergency powers regarding COVID-19.
New rules regarding the right to assemble could be reintroduced by the City Council in the future. However, that is not likely without robust public discussion beforehand, something that many people said was lacking with the proposal that was shelved.
The city currently requires permits for parades, races, events with street closures, and outdoor assemblies of 24 or more people. It prohibits the people assembled from carrying any “metal, lumber, wood or similar material” that is more than 2 inches wide or a quarter-inch thick.
The proposed amendments would have required a permit for any gathering of five or more people. Banners, signs and posters at the gatherings were to be made of soft materials such as cloth, paper, thin plastic or cardboard that is no more than a quarter-inch thick. Wood and plastic pipes were banned, except for those with blunt ends needed to support a sign.
Also banned were shields, aerosol spray, tear gas, mace, pepper spray, bear repellant, projectile launchers, laser-light devices, knives, swords, sabers, axes, hatchets, ice picks, razor blades, martial arts weapons, tasers, stun guns, chains longer than 20 inches, bricks, concrete, rocks, chunks of asphalt, pellets, ball bearings, baseball bats, metal pipes, balloons, glass bottles, water cannons, water guns filled with flammables, body fluids, biohazards or other noxious matter, open flame torches, and lanterns or other combustibles using gasoline, kerosene, propane or other fuels.
The proposed amendments called for police officers and other city officials to issue warnings before enforcing any provision of the ordinance.
City Council president Amy Brendmoen withdrew the ordinance after hearing of the opposition of event organizers, community activists and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Brendmoen has since asked the Saint Paul Police Department and City Attorney’s Office to work on a revised
New rules were overly broad, unnecessary and dangerous
The City Council received many calls and emails about the ordinance amendments prior to the scheduled public hearing on March 3. The ACLU of Minnesota stated that the changes were “overly broad, unnecessary and especially dangerous for Black, brown and indigenous communities who are already disproportionately harmed by criminalization, overpolicing and police harassment.”
These proposed amendments “threaten those who pose the least threat to our city,” said Macalester-Groveland resident James Wilkinson, “and it’ll never be equally enforced.” Wilkinson asked that the city instead enforce existing gun laws.
“Saint Paul law already says: ‘It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in any parade, race or public assembly that would constitute a substantial hazard to the public safety or that would materially interfere with or endanger the public peace or rights of residents to the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their property,’” Wilkinson said. “That should be enough.”
“My main concern is that this will limit protestors’ ability to protect themselves from the police,” said Macalester-Groveland resident Anneka Munsell. The Saint Paul police have an issue with excessive force, she added, and until that is dealt with there should be no additional restrictions on people gathering.
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