Changes in Glens Falls disorderly conduct law spark petition, concerns over enforcement

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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The traffic circle downtown has been the site of rallies and protests both supporting and condemning President Donald Trump and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik since 2017. Over time, questions have been raised over the impact of these events on the city.

Now, people on different political sides are calling for the city government to be held accountable.

After recent recommendations from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the city has altered their demonstration law to state that organized political groups engaged in rallying or protesting have to stay 8 feet away from each other. The previous ruling was a distance of 30 feet.

Agata Stanford, an activist and Glens Falls resident, started a petition on MoveOn.org to ensure that this and other changes don’t lead to a lack of enforcement.

“They all say it’s about how you interpret the law,” Stanford said in a phone call on Thursday. “Well, I say there’s nothing to interpret.”

The petition cites New York Penal Law § 240.20, Disorderly Conduct, which details the criteria for a person to be deemed guilty of disorderly conduct. It calls on city officials to enforce those criteria, which include use of abusive and obscene language and the disturbance of lawful assembly.

Safety concerns are at the heart of the petition.

Stanford has been a part of multiple marches to the offices of Elise Stefanik, speaking out on issues such as impeachment and immigration. She said that on more than one occasion, those marches have been met at the Warren Street office by pro-Trump groups there to counter-rally in support of Stefanik.

One of those encounters was the night of December 17, where a march in support of impeaching the president stood across the street from Stefanik’s office, while the other side was populated by members of the pro-Trump groups American Patriots Express and North Country Deplorables.

That event was mostly without altercation, but Stanford said many have not gone that way.

“Constantly we have these Trump supporters who invade our space,” she said. “They come right in and they scream obscenities at us.”

Stanford described a family attending a rally, and a child asking a police officer to escort him to his vehicle because he was disturbed by things being shouted at his parents.

“They scream ‘baby killer’ and words I will not say.”

As such, changes like a far-shortened distance between those groups was cause for concern for Stanford.

On the other side of the street

Bill Bombard, organizer of the Friends Who Support President Trump group, doesn’t agree with Stanford’s reasoning, but isn’t without his own concerns.

“They swear at us, they call us Nazis,” Bombard said in a Friday phone call, of those organizing to rally against Trump and Stefanik.

“They have some resistance now, so they want to cry foul.”

Bombard said he and his group started organizing counterprotests in response to liberal protests and rallies, and that their goal from the beginning was to peacefully state that they don’t agree with what those on the other side have to say.

“I think it’s a little exaggerated,” he said about Stanford’s position, and the feeling among liberal protesters that more safety rules need to be in place. “They can do all of these things, but when somebody else says no more, they cry foul.”

His group is one of three actively involved with protests and rallies in Glens Falls. He emphasized that the other two, American Patriots Express and North Country Deplorables, do not communicate or plan events with his group.

That’s where his own concerns come in.

Another change recently made to the city’s protest regulations puts in clearer terms how many people must be in a group of demonstrators in order to require a permit. Bombard said that, when you don’t actually know how many people might show up, that’s a problem.

“If we hear 15 people but we get 30, what do we do?” He said. “I can’t anticipate how many will be there.”

Bombard further worried about what would happen if demonstrators on the other side – or from one of the other pro-Trump groups – were to come over and pretend to be with a group of his that was under the 25-person limit, suddenly raising the number over the permit line.

The conversation continues

The one thing both sides can agree on is the need for enforcement. Stanford said the placement of regulations to begin with was something she and her fellow activists supported from the beginning.

“So now (after the recent changes) I said, everything we accomplished has been reversed.”

And Bombard said the city needs to step up and have a role in protecting participants in these demonstrations.

“There’s nothing in their code that addresses that. They just leave it to the police, and that’s too broad for me.”

The conversation is ongoing. The city Common Council has set a public hearing on the regulations for Feb. 11 at 7:20 p.m.

Glens Falls Mayor Dan Hall did not return a phone call seeking comment on Friday.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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