CHARLOTTE -- Groups planning to protest the Democratic National Convention in September say they're not satisfied with an updated plan designed to handle the influx of demonstrators expected to converge on Charlotte. But city and county leaders say the new plan balances freedom of speech with public safety.
"Ultimately, we want to make sure that we are respecting people's constitutional rights to assemble, to speak freely," said Michael Barnes, a Democrat who represents portions of northeast Charlotte on the city council.
The updated plan includes a designated parade route through uptown and a speakers' platform where groups can demonstrate. Public parks will be open to groups on a first-come, first-served basis. Anyone wil be able to demonstrate on public sidewalks -- except ones closed for security or transportation reasons.
"If we're able to create greater certainty for folks regarding where they can protest and how they can protest then I think that's always a good idea," Barnes said.
But organizations planning to protest at the convention say the rules restrict free speech.
"We believe that we have the right to protest in sight and sound of the convention," said Michael Zytkow, a member of the Coalition to Protest at the DNC. The group is asking the city and county to issue permits for public demonstrations, including in the parks.
"We want to be able to get a permit at the parks because if it's on a first-come, first-served basis, then it kinda creates a chaotic environment in which to stake a protest," Zytkow said.
Would-be protestors say the city hasn't been transparent about convention plans.
"It's very difficult to simply say we'll be protesting on these sidewalks when we're not even aware if those sidewalks will even be open during the time of the DNC," Zytkow said.
In January, city council approved new ordinances that gave Charlotte-Mecklenburg police more authority to control large crowds. Leaders say it's important to strike the right balance in those situations.
"We are going to make sure that as far as things happen on the ground, people are following the law, following the rules and people who aren't are going to be held accountable," Barnes said. "But we're going to do that, I believe, in a fair way."
In their 180-day outlook released Sunday, officials want to convey that uptown will be open for business. People will still be able to drive in to the city, but your route may change and your vehicle may need to be searched in some areas. Also, all uptown buildings will be open and CATS will help you pick a route if you want to take public transportation. Security and traffic plans will not be available until mid-August.
Groups that want to use the parade route and speakers' platform must sign up through a random lottery. Online sign-ups will be available starting in June.