Bank of America Protest Draws Preemptive Crackdown

The city of Charlotte, N.C., has announced broad restrictions on protests planned for a May 9 Bank of America shareholders meeting, citing safety concerns. The restrictions are prompting fears that constitutionally protected civil liberties may be suppressed, and that the preemptive bans for demonstrators could serve as a preview of the city’s tactics when it hosts September’s Democratic National Convention.

Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton said Monday that citizens would be banned from carrying a host of commonplace items, including bicycle helmets, padlocks and permanent markers, along with weapons, mace, pepper spray and pipe. The rules also ban any animals that are not part of an official parade or working as service animals during the protest. Since violation of the ban within a designated protest area would be considered grounds for arrest, local citizens could be jailed for simply walking their dogs on May 9. Anyone carrying a backpack or a briefcase with the intent to hide any prohibited items can also be searched or arrested, as can anyone wearing a scarf or a mask with the intent to hide her identity.

“How does law enforcement know that you’re carrying a backpack with the intent to conceal weapons? . . . It doesn’t seem like it’s possible for police to divine that intent,” said Katy Parker, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “That’s our concern, because then you have unfettered discretion on the part of law enforcement, and that’s unconstitutional.”

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