Bele Chere demonstrations may be dangerous

I was very disturbed by the demonstrations at the recent Bele Chere festival and the images being displayed—in poor taste—concerning hot-button issues like abortion, alcohol and gay rights. The images were certainly not [appropriate] for the eyes of children. But I would further argue that such demonstrations pose a serious safety issue for those attending the festival.

City Council needs to come up with a solution to control such demonstrations without infringing upon free-speech rights of all who choose to demonstrate—for whatever reason. But divisive issues and hateful rhetoric, with the addition of disturbing photographs, alcohol and excessive heat, creates a recipe for disaster when a large crowd of very different people are present. Should any of the banter between parties result in physical violence (as it has in the past), people are bound to get hurt: demonstrators, innocent bystanders, police officers.

These demonstrations require a great deal of police attention for fear of escalation, thus pulling officers away from other areas of the festival where they may be needed. Complaints that people personally viewed underage drinking, drug use and indecent exposure have been all over postings on Craig’s List this week. These problems would be easier to address if police officers were not disproportionately dealing with public demonstrations.

I understand that the issue of free speech will likely dictate allowing these demonstrations at future Bele Cheres. But I would argue that when free speech infringes upon the rights of others, it is no longer free. These demonstrations take away the rights of others in many ways. As a parent, I should be the one to discuss with my children the implications of alcohol consumption, abortion, religion, homosexuality etc—not those individuals airing their beliefs in public domain. As a parent, I believe it is my right to protect my minor child from emotional, psychological and physical harm. How are my rights and the rights of my children being protected in this situation?

And if demonstrations are infringing upon the rights of others to public safety, then why are they allowed to happen during this three-day stretch? I believe that City Council should look into requiring permits for all public demonstrations larger than one person—at least on a weekend when there are 200,000 other people in the streets. (That would leave 362 other days for demonstrations.)

While I have not looked into the legal ramifications of such an action, I assume that such permits would be well within the legal bounds of the city.

— Shanna Jensen

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