City Council debates 14-day buffer required before protests

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis City Council spent time Tuesday debating changes to the city's permit policy for public gatherings.

Current city law states that groups planning to protest, march, or otherwise assemble more than 25 people must file for a permit to do so at least 14 business days before the event.

Many council members and activists say that 14 day buffer is too long and unfair. Yet, Memphis Police Department Director Mike Rallings thinks the policy works just fine.

"Most of these marches are nonviolent, and the police don't need to be there," activist Hunter Dempster said. "I think they should eliminate it totally.

The city's permit policy made headlines in January when City of Memphis denied a permit for a pro-immigrant and refugee march. City leaders later allowed the march after a public outcry against their decision to deny the protest.

"The first step is better understanding the process from both behind the scenes and from citizens," City Councilman Worth Morgan said.

Rallings said the policy works fine as it is now. He said the 14 days notice gives MPD time to deploy officers efficiently and effectively despite the department's personnel shortage.

"We think that 14 days is adequate, there's a waiver process and there's another exception for spontaneous events," Rallings said.

"Fourteen days, I think it is one of those stall tactics," Karen Spencer, of Black Lives Matter Memphis, said.

Council members discussed Tuesday the possibility of having different permit standards for protests and marches than fundraising events or parades. The details on the differences those standards would be have not been determined.

Every once in a while it's a good time to pause and re-evaluate. 'Is this the right thing? Should we continue to do it? Or are there things we can do better?'" Morgan said.

Rallings said his department would comply with any request made by City Council to evaluate current policy.

City Attorney Bruce McMullen said an analysis of other cities revealed Memphis was on the "high end" of time allowed before an event for police preparation.

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