MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Myrtle Beach plans to make big changes to its protest laws, but the ordinance that would allow for those changes has raised a number of questions.
Under the updated ordinance, no one would be permitted to picket or protest at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
Myrtle Beach City Manager John Pedersen says the convention center is not a public space in the same way parks or roadways are and the city wants to keep it reserved for rented events.
Leaders say the need for reserved space isn’t the only proposed change.
Last month, one person died and multiple people were injured when white supremacists and counter-protestors clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“The type of violence and the type of activity that we saw in Charlottesville, we do everything we can to prevent that,” says Pedersen.
Leaders say events that lead to violence as the nation saw in Charlottesville, is why Myrtle Beach city officials are re-examining their protest laws.
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes say, “We’re not anticipating anything at all, but we want to be careful.”
The updated ordinance allows officers to separate protestors and counter-protestors by at least 50 yards, and requires permits for events of 25 people or more.
Protestors must also notify police 48 hours beforehand.
“We want to make sure we’re doing whatever we can to both balance the right to protest, the right to express yourself and the need to keep the public safe and the people who are participating in these protests safe,” claims Pedersen.
The ordinance also bans certain items protestors can carry, such as large posts.
“Anything that could reasonably be used or conceived of as a weapon or a body armament or an attempt to conceal identity would be prohibited,” defines Pedersen.
Typically, Myrtle Beach charges organizers $35 per hour, per police officer, when law enforcement is used in events, but that cost could go up with the updates.
“This could fit any community. We just want to be ready here,” says Pedersen.
Pedersen says political events can still be held here at the convention center but the ordinance would prohibit picketing and rallies outside scheduled rentals.
The ordinance must pass two more readings to become law.