Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg should be careful before closing public sidewalks to protesters

As we know from history books, one of the steps leading up to the American Revolution was a British ban on public protests in town squares.

These expressions of anger over British rule were, the crown said, "detriment'l to the Publick Commerce." Once-public areas were declared to be private property under the control of British merchants.

(Brief pause.)

Okay, actually I am making part of this up. Just testing.

What did happen was the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when Americans sneaked into Boston Harbor and threw a bunch of British goods overboard.

Ooooh, now they were messing with the profits! So the British really got mad. They passed a set of laws called the "Intolerable Acts," and one of those laws was, yes indeed, a ban on public assembly.

This little preface is meant to sneak up on the topic of BayWalk, the downtown entertainment and retail center that opened in 2000 in St. Petersburg.

For a while, precisely because of its success, BayWalk was a magnet for protesters. The most regular of these was an antiwar group called St. Pete for Peace protesting the war in Iraq.

But business has trailed off at BayWalk and the place is in trouble these days. The city, under Mayor Rick Baker, proposes a plan.

Part of the plan is to turn over the sidewalk along the northern side of Second Avenue N to the private ownership of BayWalk. A news article said the goal was to eliminate "loiterers and, at times, protesters."

"We have to be aggressive to respond to the community's concerns over security," Baker said.

Well ...

For starters, c'mon. Antiwar protesters on Second Avenue were not the main reason that people started feeling uncomfortable at BayWalk.

The main reason was wild crowds of kids, especially on weekend nights, leading to an occasional melee. Things got more and more out of control. One night there was even gunfire nearby. Good grief!

Ironically, it might have been better for the city to have given the whole street to BayWalk in the first place. After all, it's a two-block complex with a unified identity.

Instead, the proposed plan actually is less radical — it still allows the public on the sidewalk on the south side of Second Avenue. It's not as spacious at the north side, but it is still right there. The First Amendment does not require minimum sidewalk width.

And yet, by the city's own admission, the intent here is to make BayWalk customers feel more comfortable precisely by eliminating a public forum for protesters.

So it is a trick and a fiction. It's just as well that Southern cities didn't think of this back in the days of civil-rights protests. The City Council at least ought to fret about it some.

Is it just this sidewalk that's the special case? What happens when St. Pete for Peace or anybody else settles upon the next public sidewalk, then, drawing complaints from the merchants of Beach Drive or Central Avenue?

Should we again say, well, Decent People have the right to go about their business without putting up with this kind of ruckus? If the answer is "yes," just remember that people have thought that way throughout history. Even a lot of American colonists approved of cracking down on the "trouble-makers" and "rabble-rousers."

But they were on the wrong side.

St. Petersburg should be careful before closing public sidewalks to protesters 07/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 4:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Navy parachutist dies during demonstration over Hudson River

    Military

    JERSEY CITY, N.J. — In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, a Navy Seal team member fell to his death Sunday after his parachute failed to open during a Fleet Week demonstration over the Hudson River.

    Officials surround a U.S. Navy Seal's parachute that landed in a parking lot after the parachutist fell into the Hudson River when his parachute failed to open during a Fleet Week demonstration over the river in Jersey City, N.J. The Navy said the parachutist was pronounced dead at Jersey City Medical Center. [Joe Shine | Jersey Journal via AP]
  2. As White House defends Jared Kushner, experts question his alleged back-channel move

    National

    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration argued over the weekend that back-channel communications are acceptable in building dialogue with foreign governments, part of an effort to minimize fallout over White House adviser Jared Kushner's reported discussion about creating a secret conduit to the Kremlin at a Russian …

    President-elect Donald Trump embraces son in law Jared Kushner, as his daughter Ivanka Trump stands nearby, after his acceptance speech at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of Nov. 9. [Mark Wilson | Getty Images]
  3. Sunstar ambulance unit overturns at Drew Street intersection in Clearwater, prompts road closures

    Accidents

    The intersection of Drew Street and Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater is closed following a crash that involved a Sunstar ambulance unit, according to the Clearwater Police Department.

    A Sunstar unit flipped in the intersection of Drew Street and Ford Harrison Avenue in Clearwater Monday morning after a car reportedly ran a red light and struck the ambulance, according to the Clearwater Police Department.
  4. Merkel spokesman: Germany still seeking stronger U.S. ties

    Nation

    BERLIN — Berlin remains committed to strong trans-Atlantic relations, but Chancellor Angela Merkel's suggestion after meetings with President Donald Trump that Europe can no longer entirely rely on the U.S. "speaks for itself," her spokesman said Monday

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech during an election campaign of her Christian Democratic Union, CDU, and the Christian Social Union, CSU, in Munich, southern Germany, Sunday. Merkel is urging European Union nations to stick together in the face of new uncertainty over the United States and other challenges. [Matthias Balk/dpa via AP]
  5. Tampa police: 46 arrests, 47 ejections at two-day Sunset Music Festival

    Public Safety

    Times staff

    TAMPA — In a preliminary tally Monday morning, police declared there were "no major incidents" during the two-day Sunset Music Festival at Raymond James Stadium but boosted the number of arrests and rejections they provided in earlier reports during the weekend.

    A Tampa Fire Rescue all-terrain vehicle patrols the parking area north of Raymond James Stadum on Sunday, day two of the Sunset Music Festival. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]