Commission to consider ordinance to address Plaza protests

After a year of doing nothing, at their regular meeting Monday night, October 22nd, the Commission of the City of St Augustine will be presented a proposed repeal and replacement of Chapter 22, Article I, Section 22-4 of the City Charter. If approved, it will govern how the city will regulate events, protests and counter-protests; allowing them to co-exist in the Plaza de la Constitucion and city commons.

The first instance justifying the need for regulation of the lawful gathering of fifty or more persons attending a specific scheduled event was Light Up! Night 2017, when, for 25-years, the mayor and any honorees have flipped the ceremonial switch triggering the opening of the Nights of Lights celebration.

That night, a group protesting the American Civil War monument, led by Ronald Rawls, Jr., a Gainesville AME pastor, crashed the live musical program and lighting event, crisscrossing among thousands of peaceful residents, out-of-town guests, and their children, obstructing views of the band with protest signs, shouting deafening chants to drown out the holiday music, and engaging in hostilities with innocent bystanders.

Historic City News

In part the new code says, “in order to provide for the public, health and safety of all participants in the crowded and constrained boundaries of the Plaza, Protest and Counter-protest participants shall remain on the Perimeter sidewalk while Event participants occupy the Plaza.” Those restrictions would keep protesters away from performers in the Plaza Gazebo and families attending their performance.

Further, it provides, “Protest and Counter-protest participants may also be lawfully separated from each other by law enforcement personnel at a designated location in order to maintain the peace in the Plaza and Perimeter sidewalk.”

Offenses under this section shall be punishable as provided in section 1-8 of this Code.

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