Harrisburg activists say treatment was unfair

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With Harrisburg activists crying foul over the way police treated them Wednesday when they picketed in upscale Forrest Hills, Sheriff Ronnie Strength says it's time Augusta had a protest ordinance to lay some ground rules.

The city hasn't had one since 2004, when an 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel ruled the old ordinance unconstitutional after National Council of Women's Organizations leader Martha Burk was forbidden to demonstrate outside the gates of Augusta National Golf Club.

Now questions of fairness and parameters are coming up again with the "concerned citizens of Harrisburg" staging landlord protests in neighborhoods and along Wheeler Road. On Wednesday they held their third demonstration, this time in front of Eve Street rental property owner John B. Weigle Jr.'s home on Lake Forest Drive. A deputy arrived, conferred with his supervisors, then ordered the group to move.

"We can't get crack houses out of Harrisburg," organizer Lori Davis said Thursday, "but they can get us off the Hill quickly."

Sheriff Strength said he stands by the actions of Deputy Jesse Jackson, who told the protestors they were creating a traffic hazard. The stretch of Lake Forest has no sidewalk, and the narrow street was made even tighter by three cars parked legally in front of the Weigle house.

"We could not allow anyone to picket in a street, because of a safety issue," the sheriff said. "We're charged with safety. Picketing we don't mind. That's their constitutional right."

At issue is balancing the two -- safety and free speech. Harrisburg activists were questioning Thursday why they were allowed to march through the streets of their own neighborhood on July 4 but couldn't stand on the curb or in the gutter along Lake Forest Drive.

"You go to a neighborhood like that, and it's a double standard," Mrs. Davis said, "and that's what people are upset about."

Sheriff Strength said there's no double standard, and he doesn't want to be accused of applying one. Though he's been calling for a new ordinance since 2004, because of the Harrisburg situation, he'll ask the city's Law Department to draw one up. Hopefully the Augusta Commission will approve it, he said.

"They should have done it years ago," Sheriff Strength said.

The Court of Appeals ruling said the old ordinance -- amended in 2003 just days before the Masters Tournament -- improperly targeted only political protests and gave too much power to the sheriff and the city attorney.

Since then there's been no requirement for a protest permit. The Harrisburg group hasn't had to seek permission for their demonstrations, which target owners of what they say are the worst "nuisance" properties.

Still, activist and Augusta Commission District 1 candidate James "Butch" Palmer let the department know beforehand about the Fourth of July march. Sheriff Strength said he "probably bent the law" by allowing them to walk in the streets.

"I did send extra deputies to Harrisburg for them," he said. "Probably I should not have allowed them to do that, but I did."

His reasons for not wanting the Harrisburg group to stage on Lake Forest Drive are much like his reasons for not allowing Ms. Burk to protest along Washington or Berckmans roads in 2003, when she was decrying the Augusta National's lack of a female member. What if a drunk or distracted driver had come along, the sheriff asked, striking and killing one of the "concerned citizens?"

Sheriff Strength said he wanted the protestors to set up in one of two city-owned traffic triangles on both ends of the street, one about 85 yards from Mr. Weigle's front door, the other about a third of a mile away. Just as Ms. Burk said of the field in front of Savannah West Apartments where she was ultimately placed, Mrs. Davis said the triangles wouldn't have been acceptable.

Deputy Jackson said Wednesday that the activists told the sheriff's office ahead of time that they would keep to the city property, then didn't. But both Mrs. Davis and Mr. Palmer said they didn't confer with police.

Sheriff Strength said someone called and agreed to that before the first planned Weigle protest, which was originally scheduled on Aug. 8, then put on hold. Mr. Palmer said he doesn't recall that, but he doesn't dispute it.

"I would take that as valid, because he wouldn't make that up," Mr. Palmer said. "Apparently, if he told us, it didn't register this time."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

PROTEST ORDINANCE HISTORY

City revises protest law ahead of Masters


Votes fail to change city's law


Committee reviews protest law


Protest law will stay put


City law muddles protest decision


Burk seeks permission to protest at Masters front gate


Burk files suit over city ordinance


Membership protesters dispute location ruling


Augusta triumphs in protest lawsuit


U.S. Court of Appeals denies Burk's request


No protesters file for permit


Court: Protest illegally hampered at Masters golf tournament last year


Protest ordinance struck down


City will appeal protest ruling


Decision on appeal emerges from ether


Law on protest gets no hearing


Augusta settles in Burk suit

Comments (51) Add comment
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HillGuy
7
Points
HillGuy 09/11/09 - 01:32 am
0
0
The courts found this exact

The courts found this exact same arrangement that the Sherrif suggested as Unconstitutional. These people were NOT blocking traffic. They were not a safety hazard. This is another case where the powerful elite can get what they want in Augusta at the expense of others' constitutional rights. Will it take another court battle for Augusta to finally realize this?

WhippingPost
1
Points
WhippingPost 09/11/09 - 01:51 am
0
0
Protect the slumlord and

Protect the slumlord and block the protesters for trying to save their neighborhood? Hey, money talks! Who knew?

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 09/11/09 - 02:14 am
0
0
The Sheriff's Office has bent

The Sheriff's Office has bent over backwards in an effort to help the harrisburg protestors, follwing them during protests, even issuing citations and making arrests for what some consider minor infractions. No one should be standing in the street or on private property and being given a safe area to protest 85 yards from where they were is about as fair as it gets and does not even compare to the case at the Augusta National. And, just because one court disagrees with the ordinance does not mean the other do nor is it the job of the Sheriff to have to come up with protest ordinances, the commisson should have alread written a new law with all of the money we spend on legal fees. This incident was very minor: A single deputy ASKED if they had a permit and then learned you don't have to have one (had he been sent, he would have already known that) but most deputies don't know stuff like that so he asked a superviors who determined permits are not currently issued. They were advised of a safe area to protest that is in the immediate area. They have been given extra special treatment with deputies assistance so crowing foul is BS. Most deputies support them 100% vs. landldlords

HillGuy
7
Points
HillGuy 09/11/09 - 02:32 am
0
0
Asitis.. they were NOT

Asitis.. they were NOT standing IN the streets.. were you even there?
I don't blame the police necessarily in this.. The sheriff knows how the good-ole-boy network operates in Augusta.. but the fact is, the protesters were not obstructing traffic. I guess I can't go jogging down Lake Forest Dr now,, or I might be arrested for blocking traffic..pure BS and you know it.

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 09/11/09 - 03:11 am
0
0
No HillGuy it isn't pure BS -

No HillGuy it isn't pure BS - I agree 100% with your comments regarding these landlords and support Mr. Palmer fully. However, that being said, they were not denied their right to protest and have been treated well and supported by the Sheriff's Office for as much support as is allowed to be given to any group. They have been given leeway in the issue and altough I wasn't personally there, I do know the deputy to be a good person without any agenda and he was simply making the best decision necessary at the time. 15 people moving 85 yards to a safer area to protest is not unfair treatment by any means and although there currently are no protest permits, you can certainly meet with the Sheriff in advance (as they have done in the past via phone) and ensure that everything will be fine in a specific area, ask questions, work with the police because you and I both know the police have been working with them even as undermanned as they are. Simply move to a safer area as insturcted and then make calls as needed to see where you can move to if necessary or be proactive and make sure where you are standing in advance will not cause a problem - not very difficult to acheive.

justus4
101
Points
justus4 09/11/09 - 05:54 am
0
0
"They should have done it
Unpublished

"They should have done it years ago" is a typical CYA statement, but that action requires law enforcement to spearhead the effort. Its HIS responsibility to inform elected officials to change the statutes. Where are these people educated?

Harrisburg Homeowner
0
Points
Harrisburg Homeowner 09/11/09 - 07:04 am
0
0
I thought it extremely

I thought it extremely hilarious (notice the sarcasm) that the ONLY vehicles parked in the street were the Weigle's vehicles. I guess we COULD have stood in the city's 4 foot leeway. Or between Weigle's parked cars. THAT certainly could not have been construed to obstruct traffic any worse than the parked cars were.

harrisburgwillrise
0
Points
harrisburgwillrise 09/11/09 - 09:11 am
0
0
Let's see how quickly the

Let's see how quickly the Sheriff gets an ordinance changed and how slowly any type of ordinance will be in place to force landlords to be accountable and control their property. Many cities have already done this. With all of the protests that have gone on the last three months, one would think the the commissioners would get interested in making changes, and helping the situation, yet not a single Commissioner has commented on this subject. Sheriff Strength has not even commented on the landlord situation, but only the protests.

harrisburgwillrise
0
Points
harrisburgwillrise 09/11/09 - 09:14 am
0
0
On Wed night after the

On Wed night after the protest, a resident of the Weigle home in Harrisburg threw a brick into an oncoming car that carried one of the protesters. Wonder what has been done about this? We carried out a peaceful protest on Lake Forest Dr. We have no peace in Harrisburg.

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 09/11/09 - 09:21 am
0
0
I fully support what the

I fully support what the Harrisburg Reform group is trying to do. The Sheriff knew they were going to protest; the department should have been better prepared to handle the situation in a pro-active and mediating manner. I wish the city would step up and offer more to help reclaim Harrisburg: more frequent police patrols / quicker teardown of abandoned and derelict homes / have the city prisoners clean up the streets. Augusta's administration is focused on the wrong things! Focus on quality of life in Augusta first... not a downtown stadium but items such as lowering crime / improving education / clean up the dirt strreets / beautification, etc.

augustalawyer
0
Points
augustalawyer 09/11/09 - 09:22 am
0
0
Come on people, get real.

Come on people, get real. Don't you realize how crack houses benefit the community? I mean crack houses mean crime, home invasions, burglaries, thefts, robberies, prostitution and so many other crimes that people commit to buy their drugs. If there was no crime there would be no need for so many deputies which would mean that everyone would take a pay cut a the Sheriff's department. If there were no criminals then all of the lawyers wouldn't have jobs and would have to become politicians. (Now do you really want that?) And think about how many other people have jobs because of crime. Judges, clerks, probation officers, parole officers, jailers and the list goes on. You see folks, crime is almost like a cottage industry and as long as it is kept off the hill and out of MY neighborhood it works well for us...just not for you.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 09/11/09 - 09:38 am
0
0
Weigle, should have not

Weigle, should have not called the RCSD it only made the story that much better for the protesters. The protesters appear to be concerned for their community, and Weigle looks like an evil greedy slum lord.

harrisburgwillrise
0
Points
harrisburgwillrise 09/11/09 - 09:41 am
0
0
Hey, don't worry. There will

Hey, don't worry. There will still be enough crime in Augusta, because it is rampant, and Sheriff Strength keeps saying that they are short on deputies. Also the cops who come to Harrisburg say that they can't arrest everyone, because the courts, juvenile courts, YDC, and Jails are already overflowing. Even though I appreciate your cynicism augustalawyer, we have a real problem in Augusta.

brimisjoshan
2
Points
brimisjoshan 09/11/09 - 10:00 am
0
0
I work in Harrisburg and I

I work in Harrisburg and I stand behind the protesters but really guys it was unsafe and a hazzard. we don't like it but the police were right to protect the safety of those protesting. We just have to work out the details right on the front end by finding the best avenue to protest and still be safe. We can do it by working with the police rather than accusing them of a double standard.

Native007
4
Points
Native007 09/11/09 - 10:22 am
0
0
Keep it up HarrisBurgers!

Keep it up HarrisBurgers! Just another obstacle to overcome. Now you know what to watch out for next time.

Riverman1
84154
Points
Riverman1 09/11/09 - 10:51 am
0
0
Definitely don't give up on

Definitely don't give up on protesting in front of the slumlord's house. That hits home as we see.

brimisjoshan
2
Points
brimisjoshan 09/11/09 - 11:15 am
0
0
Thats right...don't give up

Thats right...don't give up because of some adversity. We know they don't like you drawing attention to how they live in nice homes while they make money by renting to crack dealers and having run down homes. We can't stop until we take Harrisburg back.

harrisburgwillrise
0
Points
harrisburgwillrise 09/11/09 - 11:19 am
0
0
Also, don't let the "elite"

Also, don't let the "elite" muddy the water with this Trojan horse of where or how to protest. The slumlords would love nothing better than to change the focus of these efforts. From holding them accountable for their actions to putting the Sheriff's department on the hot seat.Stay focused on putting pressure on landlords...Period.

jack
10
Points
jack 09/11/09 - 12:05 pm
0
0
Though there may be no

Though there may be no sidewalks where the protesters were, the city has a right of way next to the street that is public property. If Strength is gong to provide deputis for the Harrisburg protest, why not Forest Hill, if traffic is demed a problem? Sounds like tap dancing to me and the Sheriff ain't no Fred Astaire. I normally support the sheriff, but not this time.

CorporalGripweed
0
Points
CorporalGripweed 09/11/09 - 12:16 pm
0
0
Wow! Sounds like these

Wow! Sounds like these protesters really got to those who would allow one neighborhood to decay for the profit of another. Great work guys. I believe you have a lot more support than you are aware of. Keep up the pressure.

Brad Owens
4455
Points
Brad Owens 09/11/09 - 01:03 pm
0
0
White middle class slumlords

White middle class slumlords HATE publicity...

APiratesLife4Me
0
Points
APiratesLife4Me 09/11/09 - 01:04 pm
0
0
Hey Weigle, How do you like

Hey Weigle, How do you like the attention you are getting now? Thought you could weigle, I mean wiggle out of this huh? Surprise! I would have never known about you had the police not showed up. Now all of the southeast knows who you are! Heck, the protestors can't buy this kind of publicity. Wonder how much the AC would have charged had they taken out an ad for this many days to get their message about slumlords out?

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 09/11/09 - 01:56 pm
0
0
this is why i am glad the FBI

this is why i am glad the FBI is looking into the david frye matter, if there is any "connected or Influencial" person involved there is no way he has enuff "juice" to get the FBI'S investigation squashed. but if it was just the local sheriff's office, if he can get someone exercising their rights in a PEACEFUL MANNER attempt to clean up their neighborhood to stop then whose to say a phone call could not have been made to get the frye investigation swept under the rug or made to go away

imdstuf
10
Points
imdstuf 09/11/09 - 02:06 pm
0
0
If someone owned property

If someone owned property along Washington Road near the national they would not be allowed to let it become slum like. The city would take action and make them keep it up. Then again there are double standards as most are saying. This country is free, but far from perfect. The limits of freedom are tested with boundaries based on money and prestige.

HillGuy
7
Points
HillGuy 09/11/09 - 02:09 pm
0
0
Harrisburgers.....sounds

Harrisburgers.....sounds tasty

harrisburgwillrise
0
Points
harrisburgwillrise 09/11/09 - 02:22 pm
0
0
We know that the deputies are

We know that the deputies are sick of all the calls that they get to rental properties, and are supporting us. We need all the suport we can get to fight, the,"Augusta machine," Cliff Channell and John Weigle included.

Evans Ga.
0
Points
Evans Ga. 09/11/09 - 02:30 pm
0
0
Your damn if you do and damn

Your damn if you do and damn if you don't.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 09/11/09 - 05:38 pm
0
0
HillGuy, That does sound

HillGuy, That does sound tasty. Maybe Broad Street burgers will rename a burger in honor of Butch's crusade, Assuming they don't close up for good.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/11/09 - 05:47 pm
0
0
Brad Owens, is that as

Brad Owens, is that as opposed to black ones?

CorporalGripweed
0
Points
CorporalGripweed 09/11/09 - 06:03 pm
0
0
Slumlords come in all shapes

Slumlords come in all shapes sizes AND colors.

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