Westminster group lobbies to stage protest

Activists seek city's OK for public demonstration

March 24, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A group of Westminster peace activists that wants to continue demonstrating on Main Street plans to petition city council members tonight for a permit.

At the meeting, a Westminster attorney will ask the council to support a resolution for peace and the safe return of the troops.

Demonstrators have gathered with peace signs in front of the Westminster branch of the county library on the last Saturday of the month since November, said Richard Serrao, a 43-year-old graphic artist who was among the demonstrators. The first three events took place without incident, but at a demonstration Feb. 22, city police told the protesters that a permit was required.

"We were not giving out pamphlets or bothering anyone, just standing quietly with signs," Serrao said.

The city can prohibit or regulate "any demonstration, parade, march, vigil or participation therein from taking place" on public property, according to its municipal code. Serrao said he submitted a permit application to city police March 14. The city does not charge a fee for the permit, which usually takes about 10 days to process.

"This has nothing to do with regulating people expressing their beliefs," said Laurell Taylor, city clerk and zoning administrator, who had not received the application as of Friday. "It is purely administrative and very routine. We have to know where, how big and if there are any special arrangements."

Without a permit, demonstrators face a $25 fine for the initial offense and $50 for each repeat offense. After police review an application, it goes to Taylor.

Deeya Eyler ran into a similar roadblock when trying to organize a vigil in support of U.S. troops in the city's Winter Street Park. The event was scheduled last night at a private residence.

"As a nation we have to support our president and the 300,000 troops over there who are willing to lay down their lives," Eyler said. "We are at war."

Kathryn Freed-Collier, the Westminster attorney, will ask the council for a resolution of support for peace and the nation's military forces. She also held an impromptu candlelight vigil for peace at her Main Street office Thursday.

"The trouble with getting a permit is that we need to be flexible as the crisis emerges," she said. "There is no way to plan 10 days in advance."

Serrao said the peace stance is unpopular and he is concerned that the city might stall the permit.

"This bombing action concerns everybody on the planet," he said. "We are demonstrating for peace because we don't know what else we can do. We are not unpatriotic, but we believe this is military aggression. I am sorry for our troops. We don't want to see anyone blown up."

At the demonstration last month, a few motorists yelled and made obscene gestures at the peace activists, he said.

"Violent people have yelled at us, I guess because they think we are supporting Iraq," he said.

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