GR City Commission knocks rally registration

Grand Rapids City Commission on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It appears the city of Grand Rapids won’t require residents to register if they are planning a rally involving more than 50 people.

The idea, originally proposed by Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom was quickly shot down by city commissioners Tuesday morning.

Sundstrom said the policy was meant to protect the rights of protesters and others at large gatherings. But many on the city commission saw it as an infringement on those rights.

The city manager pitched the policy on “expressive activity” as a way to make sure groups who want to march can do so safely and in some cases, without interfering with groups counter to their message.

Sundstrom used the example of a recent immigration protest that moved up Division Avenue.

Day Without Immigrants
Day Without Immigrants protesters march in metro Grand Rapids. (Feb. 16, 2017)

“We had police officers walking with them and blocking traffic in front of them to ensure their safety,” said Sundstrom. “This is all about helping to make people safer. It’s not about trying to limit or infringe on people’s rights to assemble in any way shape or form.”

The measure would have required rally organizers expecting more than 50 people to show up to notify the city of their intentions. In turn, the city would be prepared to assist them with police protection and other services.

But the proverbial wheels came off the idea as city commissioners began debating the proposal.

“To some it’s being perceived as a impeding the right to assemble and free speech,” said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

“This in and of itself does not have the effect of law,” Sundstrom retorted.

The debate brought into question of where the line between assisting the public in their right to gather and curtailing those rights get drawn. City commissioners seem to think the proposed policy was too close to that line for comfort.

“We’re crossing the line when we get to the point of trying to be helpful too much,” said Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear.

“I’m going to be real uncomfortable in just about any circumstance that is going to require registration or notifications,” First Ward Commissioner Jon O’Connor said.

In fact, no one on the commission appeared to support the measure in its original form.

“I think we need to ask please inform us, not say you must,” said First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer.

“We just need to have an opportunity to clarify this so I’d like to push pause and allow that to happen,” suggested Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly.

And that ended the debate, at least for now.

The word require will not likely appear in the next version of the policy.

“We will come back with an administrative policy that creates guidelines for people to use again that will not limit their ability to assemble in any way,” said Sundstrom.