Isle of Wight mulls future demonstrations

Published 11:23 am Wednesday, January 24, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A white supremacist rally turned violent in Charlottesville last summer has led many Virginia localities to consider developing permits and procedures for demonstrations — including Isle of Wight County.

“Charlottesville taught us lots of ways not to do something,” said county attorney Mark Popovich about a demonstration against moving a Confederate statue that ended up with counter protestors and a woman who was rammed to death by a man driving his car. 

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The challenge is how not to infringe on someone’s right to free speech by, for instance, charging too much for a permit, said Popovich at a Jan. 10 Board of Supervisors work session. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

After the rally in Charlottesville, the Board asked county staff about coming up with a permit or some means to regulate future rallies and demonstrations. 

Popovich said Isle of Wight currently does not have a permit concerning demonstrations on public property.

The only ordinance on the books now for a large gathering concerns music festivals, Popovich said. 

Major James Clarke with the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office said law enforcement officials want to know who has applied for a permit so that they can do a background check before the group arrives.

Clarke said his office is interested in protecting residents and property, and if a permit calls for 100 people, it’s best to expect twice that.

Isle of Wight County Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips said the state’s criminal code provides some protections, such as laws concerning riots and unlawful assembly.

And while the county needs to consider the right to free speech, there is no constitutional right to bring things to a rally, such as torches or sticks, said Phillips.

So the county can prevent people bringing bats and torches but not weapons, said Newport District Supervisor William McCarty, referring to open carry laws in Virginia.

Phillips said it becomes a violation if the gun is used to promote violence.

“This will be a work in progress,” said Popovich.

The Board directed Popovich to begin working with law enforcement and emergency services entities in the county.  {/mprestriction}