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Gettysburg Borough to Require Permit for Friday’s Demonstration on the Lincoln Square and Limit Protestors to “First Amendment Zones”

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Gettysburg Borough will require the organizers of Friday’s Lincoln Square demonstration to follow rules in its existing  special event ordinance. The ordinance requires groups of 30 or more people who are assembling in such a way that “obstructs the movement of pedestrian or vehicular traffic on any street or sidewalk” to have an approved permit.

The demonstrators will also be confined to fenced-off “first amendment zones.”

A sponsor of the protest, Jenine Weaver, said the application, for “a peaceful anti-racism protest to support Black lives and amplify Black voices,” was submitted to the borough on Monday.  

Weaver said about 200 people were expected at the rally.

Gettysburg Police Chief Robert Glenny said the borough’s decision was based on a number of factors, including the danger of having so many people on the square, the potential blocking of pedestrian and vehicle right of ways, and the staff needed to protect protestors who are spread throughout the square.

Glenny said he wanted to allow the group to be on the square, but to keep them safe. “I’m not sure I can keep everybody safe going forward.  We don’t want people to block ramps or fall into the traffic,” said Glenny

Glenny said there had been three severe automobile accidents on the square since he was appointed 18 months ago “It scares me to think about what would happen if we had a crash when one of the protests was happening.”

Speaking of difficulties encountered in similar rallies over the past weeks, Glenny said “the walkways and the handicapped ramps were continually blocked.  We were constantly moving people out of the way.”

Glenny said cost of policing the rally was also a factor. “We had 25 officers on duty for the last rally, and the state police were on standby.  We used every one of those officers,” said Glenny.

Glenny said Pennsylvania’s law regarding the interpretation of first amendment rights “allows us to limit the time, place, and manner of protests for legitimate governmental interests. The borough is well within our ability to do this.”

Glenny noted the borough had denied a permit to the Ku Klux Klan to protest on the square in 2017, but did provide them with an alternate venue.

Speaking about the three similar rallies that have occurred on the Lincoln Square over the past months, Glenny said “technically we have to get a permit for any group that size.  There has always been a requirement for a permit. We should have required a permit each time.”

Glenny said the borough had recently received an email from the local advocacy group Gettysburg Rising who said they did not think the special event ordinances had been enforced consistently and that he agreed with that.

The special events permit normally requires the applicant for a special events permit to pay an application fee, liability insurance, and costs associated with traffic control and other necessary public services. The ordinance also says that the “inability of a sponsor of a First Amendment activity to pay costs and expenses shall not result in a denial of a special events permit.

Glenny said he did not think the current permit would require fees or insurance.

Glenny said that although special events applications are normally required to be submitted 30 days prior to the event, the borough was “trying to get it through to accommodate what they want and do it safely.”

Glenny said he thought the application would likely be approved on Thursday. “All of the borough department heads look at the permit.  Each of the departments then signs off on it. It’s not like it happens overnight.”

Glenny said areas would be reserved for demonstrators on at least three of the four quadrants of the square, but they would be located in the middle rather than the corners of the block “We’ll use the public parklet on the square. The biggest area may be in front of the Gettysburg hotel,” said Glenny.

Glenny said he was talking with local businesses on the square and that he wanted to do the best he could to limit any negative effects of the protest for them.

“Folks get scared when they see the people protesting.  They’re hesitant to walk through.  I hope people will wear masks.  I hope they will social distance,” said Glenny.

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Charles Stangor is Gettysburg Connection's Publisher and Editor in Chief.

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