Glens Falls protest law changes approved, as public speaks up in disagreement

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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The city code officially has a new chapter, one designed to regulate political protests and rallies in the city; and one that residents who spoke up at a public hearing Tuesday night have concerns with.

Chapter 87 of the Code of the City of Glens Falls was first drafted last September, and changes have been made after discussion with the New York Civil Liberties Union. Those changes, such as a reduction in distance between protesting groups, are included in what was approved by the Glens Falls Common Council on Tuesday night.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” said Agata Stanford of Glens Falls, a local activist who recently started a petition in support of reverting the rules back to their original state.

Stanford said around 500 people have brought their voices to the petition. At the hearing, the new ruling of eight feet of space between political groups (as opposed to the previously proposed 30) was a matter of contention.

“The issue is, if we’re not going to have some rules of engagement to keep protesters safe,” she said, “we do not feel safe having somebody once again in our faces with a bullhorn screaming obscenities at us.”

The scene Stanford painted there was one echoed in various tones by others who came forward to speak.

Neil Herr, a Glens Falls resident, recounted a recent encounter where a Trump supporter shouted at him through a bullhorn from about a foot away.

“Now, I thought a dramatic way to present this would be for me to go up to you and scream in your face, one foot apart,” Herr said, to chuckles from other attendees. “But I thought if I did that, perhaps the security would remove me from here.”

Herr asked Common Council members if they had personally attended any of the protests and rallies downtown. Councilwoman Diana Palmer said that she had.

A common sentiment from the residents in attendance was concern that the 8-foot distance would not be enough to keep agitated individuals on one side from harassing those on the other. Especially not given the tone of some encounters described.

South Glens Falls resident Beth Wadleigh said she had faced, and recorded, members of the North Country Deplorables, a pro-Trump group, shouting at participants in a women’s march in front of Crandall Public Library.

“They screamed worse than obscenities at us,” she said.

She also recounted the story of a boy who had been at the library with his family at the time, who she said wrote a letter describing fear that he would be shot. The letter had been mailed to Mayor Dan Hall.

The downtown factor

The issue of location doesn’t stop at the library. Attendees expressed concern over the effect of these political gatherings on Glens Falls’ businesses.

“I hear it all,” said Leslie Nester, owner of Thairapy Lounge on Warren Street. Her business is located right between two central culmination points for the local political protests and rallies; the traffic circle, and the office of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik.

From that vantage point, Nester said she and her clients could hear the shouting, megaphones and voices and all, through the walls of her business and whatever music might be playing inside.

“I feel that this is an economic issue for our city,” said Queensbury resident Judith Tully. “(Visitors) are not going to come to our city, to shops or to eat at our restaurants.”

While some see keeping the political events downtown as a problem, Queensbury Resident Bill Bombard said he sees the traffic circle as a perfect location.

“It’s the most room, the most visible for everybody’s message.”

Bombard, who runs the Friends Who Support President Trump group, was the only self-identified Trump supporter to speak at the open forum. He addressed Stanford’s petition, which had been presented to the Common Council at the start of the meeting, saying that he felt his pro-Trump group had faced plenty of verbal harassment from people on the other side.

He also brought up concerns with the new stipulation on permits. The new rules dictate that any organized group of 25 individuals or more must apply for a permit from the city in order to hold a rally, protest, or other similar event. Bombard said he did not always know how many people might show up to an event.

“If I’m out there with 24 people and 10 more show up, whether they’re with us or not, now I’m over the limit and we have to disband our rally.”

The Common Council’s answer to this issue was straightforward: If you’re unsure, apply for the permit anyway.

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

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