"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Now that our city has dropped the remaining charges against the last of the seven peace advocates average age 65 who were manhandled by Colorado Springs police and then arrested during the 2007 St. Patrick's Day parade, our policymakers should address the root issues raised by this unfortunate incident.
If at all possible, the civic arena, rather than our court system, should determine what, if any, requirements should be placed on residents using city streets for events. Some of the questions that need to be addressed:
Can parade organizers using city streets and parks prevent certain citizens from participating in events? Does the answer change if the city subsidizes the event?
If organizers pay police to provide security at their event, are the officers working for the organizers or the police department? Upon the request of event organizers, should officers evict participants, even if they have broken no law?
Should citizens marching in parades on city streets only wear T-shirts and/or carry signs approved by the organizers? Does such a restriction violate our First Amendment? Of equal importance, is it good public policy?
Should event promoters be allowed to arbitrarily enforce their own rules?
John and Carol O'Donnell, the St. Patrick's Day event organizers, included a line in their registration form stating: "Promotion of social issues will not be allowed." But for more than a decade, their parades have welcomed those promoting certain social messages: from candidates running for office to military recruiters, from activists urging that pets be neutered to those seeking tax increases. In 1997 and again in 2003, I marched with a coalition seeking increased funds for Trails, Open Space & Parks.
In addition to clarifying those issues, City Council should implement needed reforms to ensure that similar incidents will not recur. Specifically, the city should require that event promoters, key staff and volunteers wear identification clearly indicating they are officials at the event. At the parade last March, some volunteers, wearing no identification, demanded that certain parade participants immediately vacate the street. Not surprisingly, some marchers objected to being rejected by someone they did not know from Adam (or Eve).
From now on, city staff must also ensure that for-profit groups' use of our streets is not subsidized by taxpayers. This is especially important if the event does not allow all peaceful community members to participate. For the past several years, O'Donnell & O'Donnell, a for-profit company, has paid the discounted rate reserved for nonprofits. The city must ensure that such subsidies which can be worth tens of thousands of dollars only go to legitimate nonprofits.
An ounce of prevention, as the saying goes, can be worth a pound of cure. We therefore call on City Council to establish a citizens advisory panel to develop recommendations for how our city should address the concerns revolving around who can be included and excluded from subsidized, as well as non-subsidized, events on city streets.
Now that legal charges have been dropped, the Independent will host what we hope will be an entertaining and enlightening town hall meeting where pertinent issues can be debated. It is our hope that not only will all nine city councilors attend (six have already expressed interest), but that participants will also include Police Chief Richard Myers, City Attorney Pat Kelly, parade organizers John and Carol O'Donnell, as well as members of the St. Paddy's Day 7, the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, the Martin Luther King celebration committee, the Colorado Springs Pride Center and the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum, as well as several police officers involved in providing security at past parades and marches.
And, rest assured, everyone will be allowed to attend.