A proposed ordinance introduced by Memphis City Council member Reid Hedgepeth could put tough restrictions on the way public assemblies are held in Memphis.
On Tuesday, members of the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens held a press conference outside City Hall where those against the ordinance held signs calling the city a “police state.”
Under the proposed ordinance, rules for acquiring permits for public assemblies, including parades and races, could be changed.
“It would be an issue for one person to speak up,” said Keedran Franklin, with the coalition. “They’re taking away the right to assemble.”
Hedgepeth’s proposed ordinance, if passed upon its final reading in January, would require organizers to apply for a permit 90 to 180 days before an event. Currently the requirement is 14 days. The ordinance also would allow the city to adjust fees as it deems fit and give Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings the authority to deny permits at his discretion.
Hedgepeth (Super District 9) said during the Nov. 21 council meeting that he’d received complaints about pathways being blocked during some events.
Hedgepeth, who represents part of Cordova, said his intent wasn’t to limit free speech but to tighten the notification process so that constituents in affected areas would not be stranded.
Activists claimed the council tried to present the ordinance under the radar, citing its proposal near the Thanksgiving holiday.
“To try to enact these laws under the cover of a race (event) and then you wait until the longest holiday of the year so far to announce it so it goes under the radar, and after we dig in it we found out this is murder to the constitution,” said Al Lewis, a member of the coalition.
Last weekend and Tuesday, activists expressed their displeasure with the proposed ordinance. Close to 100 people met at First Congregational Baptist Church in Cooper-Young to discuss possible recourse.
“It criminalizes anyone who decides to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech,” said George Boyington with the Tennessee Young Democrats Grassroots Caucus.
The coalition also criticized council Chairman Berlin Boyd for not being more watchful and for not sounding an alarm about the proposed ordinance.
Franklin said the coalition intends to have a large presence at the Dec. 5 council meeting as they continue to make their message clear about the potential dangers of the proposed ordinance. The coalition also announced plans to call for the resignations of council members Hedgepeth and Boyd, and Mayor Jim Strickland in 2018.
“There shouldn’t be an ordinance about assembly,” Franklin said. “Period.”
The New Tri-State Defender attempted to reach Boyd and Hedgepeth but neither was available by TSD’s print deadline