On the same day that Occupy DC will attempt to jumpstart the summer protest season, D.C. Council member Jack Evans has introduced a bill that would require demonstrators to give notice and obtain a permit before they could march through city streets.
Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced his bill at Tuesday’s council meeting, saying unregulated demonstrations can be a strain on D.C. police resources.
Under Evans proposal, the Department of Regulatory and Consumer Affairs and D.C. police would be asked to get together to identify an appropriate permitting process.
“I’m saying, ‘you need to give notice to the city you are going to have a demonstration,’” Evans said. “It could be 12 hours. It could be 5 days.”
Evans noted that most major cities have a formal permitting process before demonstrations can be held on city streets
He added the District used to require notice for public demonstrations, but the law was changed after the city was forced to pay an $8.25 million settlement to World Bank protesters who alleged their First Amendment rights were violated during a 2002 police action in Pershing Park.
Evans said gaps in city law were exposed last fall, when Occupy DC protesters routinely marched through city streets without first notifying police.
At times, police scrambled to keep tabs on the demonstrators and
close streets in time to keep them separated from moving vehicles. Some motorists also complained about the ensuing traffic tie-ups.
On Tuesday night, as part of a nationwide day of action, Occupy DC plans a march from Meridian Hill Park to the White House during rush hour.
Evans isn’t the only high-profile individual concerned about the issue. In an interview with the Washington Post this spring, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) also said he would like the city to embrace a permitting process for demonstrations.
Evans and Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said they are trying to make it easier for Police Chief Cathy Lanier to manage traffic flow and police resources during demonstrations.
“Otherwise, she is having to keep people on call constantly,” Evans said.
But Evans, who did not get any co-sponsors for his bill, could struggle to get it approved as council members weigh the needs of police versus the city’s reputation for welcoming demonstrations protected by the First Amendment.