SIMMONS: Notification makes sense for D.C. protests

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Shortly after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, the Treasury Department began closing off streets and barricading other federal buildings, falling a hair short of turning Secret Service agents, U.S. Park Police and other federal police officers into Buckingham Palace-like guardians.

Now comes D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who opposed the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and questioned the Clinton administration’s legal authority to “essentially [sneak] out in the middle of the night to close the street.”

The city lost the war to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue, but Mr. Evans is starting a new battle.

On Tuesday, he proposed legislation that calls for “reasonable notice” of planned demonstrations.

His reasoning is sound on several fronts.

On the law-enforcement side, Mr. Evans said such notices would aid D.C. police, who often have to “deal with a demonstration that pops up out of nowhere.”

As for precedence, the nation’s capital stands alone.

“We did the research [and] we can’t find any other jurisdiction that does not require at least a minimum notice requirement,” he said, adding that the length of the notice “can be as short or as long as anyone wants to do it.”

Now, before you First Amendment supporters singe the hairs of your nostrils, read this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Therein lies a considerable zone for all of us, as the Founding Fathers’ choice word “peaceably” is hardly a throwaway descriptor - and the nation’s capital is no throwaway city, home as it is to demonstrations large and small, planned and unplanned all the year long.

There is a right way to accomplish Mr. Evans‘ goal without shredding our First Amendment rights.

Look at it this way: Mr. Evans applauded the scores of high-profile D.C. officials and activists who were arrested last year after impeding street and sidewalk traffic on Capitol Hill during a statehood protest.

Some of those arrested said they marched from the sidewalk into the street spontaneously, but that defense tactic didn’t please the judge (nor should it have).

In a flash that evening of April, 11, 2011, law enforcement officers saw a peaceful assembly turn into a mob of impeders.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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