Bladen County ordinance regulates protesting and picketing activities

Updated: Oct. 19, 2020 at 11:57 PM EDT
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BLADEN COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Following months of nationwide protests over police brutality, politics, and COVID-19 regulations, the Bladen County Commissioners voted on a new ordinance regulating how, and where, people can protest in the county.

Commissioners chairman Ray Britt said this came about to protect employees at Smithfield’s Foods. There had been concerns about protests outside of the company’s facility in Tar Heel and they wanted to make sure the employees are protected.

The ordinance, titled Chapter 38, Article I, Section 38-2 through 38-5 established new rules for ‘picketing and public demonstrations,' and it acknowledged the right to protest granted to all citizens by the First Amendment, but also hoped to regulate how and where residents of Bladen County exercise that right.

“The County of Bladen has a significant governmental interest in protecting an individual’s right to exercise his or her First Amendment right of free speech and the County recognizes that public sidewalks, streets and parks are traditional public forums in which expressive activity occurs,” it reads.

However, the county also acknowledged the need to protect the ‘health, safety, and welfare of the general public’ during such demonstrations.

It is not unusual for a local government to adopt rules regulating picketing in their jurisdiction, in the City of Wilmington city code also outlines what is permitted and what is not when it comes to picketing.

One part of the new ordinance explains that picketing will not be permitted if directed at a particular private residence.

“The County of Bladen has a significant governmental interest in protecting residential privacy and protecting unwilling listeners within their homes from the intrusion of unwanted speech,” the ordinance reads.

Protesting outside of individuals homes is not uncommon especially when that person is an elected official but state law also prohibits ‘targeted picketing at a residence.’

State law does not allow protestors to cause fear for ones safety or substantial emotional distress, however, state law does protect the right to generally picket through residential neighborhoods that proceeds past a residence.

The ordinance allows picketing on public sidewalks but aims to keep people out of streets and from blocking traffic.

Regulations for picketing in Bladen County will now include:

  • "Picketing may be conducted on public sidewalks, any County-controlled park, or other County owned exterior areas normally used or reserved for pedestrian movement, including easements and rights of way, but shall not be conducted on the portion of the public roadway used primarily for vehicular traffic or within twenty-five feet of a vehicular street or highway intersection, or (i) when a property has been otherwise reserved for private use; (ii) on a median strip; or (iii) at a location directed, focused, or targeted at a particular private residence.
  • Picketing shall not disrupt, block, obstruct or interfere with pedestrian or vehicular traffic or the free passage of pedestrian or vehicular traffic into any driveway, pedestrian entrance, or other access to buildings, which abut the public sidewalks or right of ways.
  • Written or printed placards or signs, flags, or banners carried by individuals engaged in picketing shall be of such a size and/or carried on the sidewalks or in or upon Countyowned areas, as to allow safe and unobstructed passage of pedestrian or vehicular traffic. A staff or pole on which a sign, flag, or banner may be carried shall be made of corrugated material, plastic, or wood, and shall not exceed forty inches in length and shall not be made of metal or metal alloy. If made of wood, the staff or pole shall be no greater than three-fourths inch in diameter at any point. A staff or pole must be blunt at both ends.
  • If more than one picketer or more than one group of picketers desire to picket at the same time at or near the same location, law enforcement officers may, without regard to the purpose or content of the message, assign each group a place to picket in order to preserve the public peace. Members of a group shall not enter an area assigned to another group. Priority of location shall be based upon which picketer or group of picketers arrived first.
  • Spectators of pickets shall not gather, congregate or stand within 25 feet of an intersection of a street or highway with another street or highway or in any manner physically interfere with individuals engaged in picketing. Picketers and spectators of pickets shall not speak fighting words or threats that would tend to provoke a reasonable person to a breach of the peace.
  • Picketers and picketing shall be subject to all applicable local, state and federal laws.
  • Nothing in this section prohibits a law enforcement officer from issuing a command to disperse in accordance with North Carolina General Statute §14-288.5 in the event of a riot or disorderly conduct by an assemblage of three or more persons."

Anyone found in violation of the aforementioned regulations can be punished with a class three misdemeanor and a fine not to exceed $500.

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