DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) — Ten days after Stephen Perkins was killed in Decatur, people are still chanting “justice for Steve Perkins”.
In recent days, there have been many protests throughout the city of Decatur, as well as a large prayer gathering.
During a protest on Friday night, News 19 crews on the scene witnessed officers detain a few protestors. At this time, the Decatur Police Department has not confirmed if any arrests were made.
With so many recent protests, News 19 started digging into what the rules for protest are in Decatur city limits.
It was a bit of a challenge for us to find answers. The City Clerk’s office did not answer our direct questions regarding protest rules in the City of Decatur. However, after filling out an “information request” form from the City Clerk’s office, we were sent two chapters from the city’s municipal code.
The rules for protesting fall under the “Parade Code” in Decatur. You can read that here. According to the code, any “demonstration” or “assembly” must have a permit. According to the Parade Code, that permit application is reviewed by the Chief of Police.
The second municipal code excerpt we were sent is in regards to the use of megaphones or other audio amplification devices.
According to that document, “It shall be unlawful for any person within the city or its police jurisdiction who has not first obtained a permit from the mayor to speak through any horn, megaphone, sound box or amplifier or to play any phonograph, radio or other mechanical or electrical device where the sound is amplified.”
The document goes on to say that a person or persons who wish to use one of those devices must have a permit. The permit is reviewed by the Chief of Police.
News 19 reached out to local attorney, Michael Timberlake of Timberlake & League, to discuss the legality of protests and protest permit applications.
“The First Amendment does provide people with a large right to protest and make their position known on those types of things, but the law also restricts them in certain ways,” Timberlake said. “So you can’t do things that are to incite a riot or cause people fear or alarm, you know, that’s a misdemeanor offense.”
Timberlake also helped outline what would define an unlawful assembly. “You can’t organize a group that is designed to cause a riot, that would be an unlawful assembly. If it’s a group of more than five people, then it could be unlawful assembly, and you know the police could make the disperse” he added.
When it comes to protest permit applications, Timberlake said the subject matter of the protest cannot be considered when reviewing the application. “It’s not a situation where they look at the subject matter,” he said.
“They just look at ‘is this permit going to allow to have this protest safely?’. You can restrict the right to free speech based on public safety issues, as long as they are reasonable, as long as they are applied across the board and as long as the subject matter is not considered in whether or not to give a permit,” Timberlake said.
Timberlake has a blog on his website that digs deeper into protest law.
News 19 reached out to the City of Decatur to see if any protest permits have been filed. At this time, the City Clerk said, “I have been told they are in review”, but had no further information.