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Raleigh City Council considers "Anti-Harassment Ordinance" targeting demonstrations
The impetus for the ordinance is demonstrations by Black Hebrew Israelites and anti-abortion protesters
Update: the ordinance has passed the second vote and become law
On March 21, the Raleigh City Council voted 7-1 at the first reading to approve a new “anti-harassment” ordinance. The Council will hold another vote after a second reading of the ordinance at the next council meeting on April 4.
What does the ordinance say?
The proposed ordinance would only cover areas the city has the legal authority over: “streets, sidewalks, alleys, and other public property, as well as City-owned and City-controlled property.”
The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to follow, surround, crowd, or corner a person with the intent to threaten or intimidate:
(1) It shall be unlawful for any person to harass another person in or about a public space. A person commits harassment in a public space if the person knowingly and intentionally and without lawful or legitimate purpose:
a. follows another person in or about a public space with the intent to threaten or intimidate another person, or in a manner that would place a reasonable person in fear for that person’s safety; or
b. surrounds, crowds or corners another person or physically interferes with another person’s movement through or in a public space with the intent to threaten or intimidate another person, or in a manner that would place a reasonable person in fear for that person’s safety.
(2) A person acts knowingly and intentionally when the person continues the conduct described above after the person to whom the conduct is directed has made a negative verbal response or taken action that a reasonable person would understand as a negative response.
(3) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor and may also be enforced through issuance of a civil penalty pursuant to §14-1005, through injunctive or other equitable relief, or a combination of remedies.
As per NC General Statute § 14-4, misdemeanors created by city ordinance are Class 3 misdemeanors, the lowest level of misdemeanor in North Carolina.
Who would the ordinance affect?
Although the ordinance is facially neutral in its language, Mayor Baldwin cited two types of demonstrators which prompted its adoption; Black Hebrew Israelites who aggressively “street teach”, and anti-abortion protesters:
“There’s a group that comes out to Moore Square and screams obscenities at people,” Baldwin said in an interview last week. “Harasses people. We’ve gotten a lot of complaints. And so that’s part of it. And then the other part is the abortion protest.”
- as quoted in the News & Observer
If you’ve walked around a bit in Raleigh, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Black Hebrew Israelites out doing what they refer to as “street teaching”, where they tell anyone who will listen about how blacks, hispanics, and native americans are the “real” people of God. The associated “Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge” is also holding a Passover celebration this week at the Raleigh Convention Center.
Pro-abortion activists have repeatedly requested that the City Council do more to limit the anti-abortion activists, including implementing “buffer zones” or noise ordinances around abortion clinics, and preventing crisis pregnancy centers from being located near abortion clinics. Although Mayor Baldwin cited anti-abortion activists as a reason for the ordinance, I am skeptical as to whether they regularly engage in behavior that would be covered by a neutral reading and application.
There is a third category of demonstrators whose behavior in Raleigh could be criminalized by this ordinance, the BLM/antifa/leftist alliance which has engaged in numerous demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in the city over the past few years. Although I’m sure most of us recall the rioting and vandalism which would already be covered under existing state law, I have also witnessed these type of demonstrators engage in the “borderline” harassment which the city seeks to criminalize with this bill.
In one such instance, participants in a anti-fascist/anti-Trump demonstration on Janury 20, 2021 chased off 1-2 members of the white-nationalist/fascist organization Patriot Front. According to what I heard, the fascists took refuge in a business and called the police for protection. On the face of it, this would qualify as being followed “with the intent to threaten or intimidate another person, or in a manner that would place a reasonable person in fear for that person’s safety”.
Would white supremacists and right-wingers be protected from “harassment” using this ordinance? Or will it only be applied against groups which are politically unpalatable? Time will tell, assuming that the Council approves the measure at the second reading on Tuesday.