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Ordinance change aims to make parades, protests, public assemblies safer

In an effort to keep public events, whether a parade or protest, safer for those participating and those watching, the Oxford Police Department is recommending adding some additional verbiage to the city’s existing Parades, Public Assemblies and Special Events ordinance.

OPD Chief Joey East presented the proposed changes Tuesday to the Oxford Board of Aldermen for a first reading.

The added wording would prohibit anyone in a parade or other public assembly – or anyone within 500 feet of the event – to carry, wear any glass bottles, balloons filled with anything other than helium or air, body armor, bricks, stones, projectile launching equipment – including water guns, operational gas masks or open flame.

Those watching or within 500 feet of the permitted public assembly will also be prohibited from engaging in any activity that would constitute a substantial hazard to the public safety or would materially interfere with or endanger the public peace or rights of residents. They will also not able to carry any length of metal, lumber, wood or similar material for purposes of displaying a sign, poster, plaque or notice. Only posters that are one-fourth inch or less in thickness and two inches or less in width. Signs must be made from paper, cloth or cardboard.

“We don’t want people carrying anything that can be weaponized,” East said, who mentioned the changes were considered after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia where one woman was killed during a demonstration in regards to the removal of a Confederate statue.

The proposed ordinance also says that masks cannot be worn if the intent is to intimidate people or to hide their identity from law enforcement.

City Attorney Pope Mallette said the additional language to the ordinance is not an attempt to infringe on First Amendment rights.

“It’s to ensure the safety of those assembling and those watching,” he said Tuesday. “We want people to come to public assemblies, protests or events but come without the threat of violence.”

A second reading and public hearing on the proposed ordinance changes will be held at 5 p.m., Sept. 19 at City Hall.