North Augusta council gets behind the right to protest in city

Published: Jun. 15, 2020 at 10:42 PM EDT
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Monday, June 15, 2020

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The North Augusta City Council unanimously voted to accept a permit for its first Black Lives Matter protest during a meeting Monday night.

Not only does the council support the protest, but it's ready to update the rules altogether.

This will be North Augusta's first protest since the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Just like other local cities, event organizers are required to get approval before protesting. It's a rule North Augusta council members are now reconsidering.

"We want to show support for those black lives out there and to stand against any type of injustice in our nation," said Brandy Mitchell, the Unity North Augusta protest organizer.

It's a basic First Amendment right -- the right to protest.

"I feel like this something that we shouldn't have to vote on," Mitchell said.

And it's an issue she feels is worth cutting through some red tape.

"Right now, it's just kind of a technicality at this point," she said.

In North Augusta, protest permits have been in the city bylaws for 50 years -- and the city asks for 15 days' notice. There are no fees for a permit, but city leaders still feel like it's time for a change.

"Our city code has not been updated, parts of it, since 1970," said Eric Presnell of the North Augusta City Council.

And Presnell believes requiring these permits is an outdated ordinance, that violates a basic First Amendment right.

"As long as it's peaceful, no. People shouldn't have to get permits and that is something that I think we are going to look at," he said.

But in Augusta, it's an opposite sentiment. Earlier this month, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office announced it will start enforcing protest permits for gatherings larger than 50 people.

Protesters must give a 30-day notice and hire special-duty deputies at a rate of up to $25 per hour. Officials say it's all to ensure safety at events.

Another thing discussed at Monday's meeting was the

There's no official word on whether that monument will be removed, but council members say they are listening to what the public has to say.

That protest approved at Monday's meeting will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday. It will start at the North Augusta Municipal Building with a march and end at the Merriweather monument with a demonstration. The event organizer says the event will be peaceful and family-friendly.

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