Police chief: Public safety, 1st Amendment rights behind unpermitted protest paradeColorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey says his officers used appropriate “discretion” when they allowed marching Ferguson protesters from Colorado College free use of downtown streets Nov. 25.
Faced with a “spontaneous march” that broke off from a planned protest, the officers' decision made it possible to “allow for expression of First Amendment Rights and diminish any aggravation of the situation,” states his e-mailed response to questions from the Westside Pioneer. “As seen across the country, this approach to a dynamic event was in the best interest of everyone involved.”
The Pioneer had asked for a response from Carey because the protesters' parade appeared to contradict city laws addressing the use of city streets; also, the marching group paid no costs. By contrast, following regulations, Coronado High student government must apply annually to the city at least 90 days in advance for a special events permit to hold its Homecoming Parade and must pay for a prescribed number of police officers as well as specifically located barricades, placed by people certified in doing so. The total Coronado parade costs typically are $3,000 or more, according to past interviews with school officials, with most of that expense for police and barricades. The students raise the money from private donations and school events through the year.
The protesters - who were expressing their dismay that a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri did not indict a police officer in the shooting death of a crime suspect last summer - were not billed for the police presence; there also were no barricades. According to a City Police spokesperson, 14 officers and 4 staff people from the Police Department were on hand.
The Pioneer cited the following four city laws in the e-mail to the police chief.
- 9.2.104 prohibits obstructing a street.
- 10.18.111 makes it unlawful to "occupy, linger, delay, remain, abide or tarry on any street or highway in this City when conduct obstructs or interferes with the movement of traffic on the street or highway."
- 10.23.111 requires a special permit to hold a parade.
- 10.24.101 designates the City Police Department as the entity "to enforce all street and traffic regulations" in the city.
Here is the link to the online document titled "Colorado Springs, Colorado City Code." (Note: The Advanced Search feature allows laws to be accessed by their individual code numbers.)
In his e-mail reply, Carey did not address the four laws asked about by the Pioneer.
His e-mail explains that the Colorado College contingent had told police the morning of Nov. 25 that there would be a protest. After the Ferguson no-indictment decision was announced that night, “the march which ensued was spontaneous and was not part of the event,” he writes. “As such, officers from our department had to react to the march and make decisions keeping the best interest and safety of the public in mind.”
The Colorado Springs daily newspaper reported that police at first tried to keep the marchers on the sidewalk, but did not deter them when they moved into the roadway. The police also reportedly helped by blocking side traffic as the marchers moved forward.
Carey's e-mail elaborates that “every day officers use discretion in their work. This was one of those days. Discretion was exercised to minimize the impact on the community, allow for expression of First Amendment Rights, and diminish any aggravation of the situation beyond the spontaneous march.”
Westside Pioneer article