In light of the active social media discussion around a protest that occurred this weekend in Bexley, and the possibility of more protests to come, I wanted to share how the City is closely engaged and is doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our residents and our community.
Protesting in front of the home of an appointed civil servant is, in my opinion, an invasion of privacy and an abhorrent use of first amendment rights. Nonetheless, as long as it is conducted peacefully it is protected free speech, and attempts to limit the right of protest on public sidewalks in front of homes have been consistently struck down by the courts. Upper Arlington, for example, had a law to this effect that was overturned by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1995. (Side note: a law could be written to prohibit protesting in front of one residence only, but it wouldn’t prohibit protesting, say, across the street, or up and down the street, which is what was occurring yesterday. Council considered such a law in 2008 and determined that it would not have any meaningful application based on the easy loophole of walking up and down past multiple residents.)
Aggravating the alarm in our community is the fact that the protestors at the statehouse and at the protests in Bexley are prone to exercise their “Open Carry” rights. Open Carry is a State of Ohio law that cannot be modified by Bexley’s local laws. Additionally, Open Carry in and of itself cannot be construed legally as threatening behavior. Bexley Police and State of Ohio security forces have been in frequent contact regarding security and protests. Bexley PD have monitored the situation from the beginning, and were present the entirety of the time during yesterday’s protest, observing from a distance. Additionally, they are working closely with State of Ohio agents in order to ensure continued protection of any residents who are the target of protests, and of the surrounding neighborhoods.
I am confident, after again reviewing our ordinances and discussing them with our City Attorney, Columbus’ City Attorney, and several City Council members, that we do not have any additional legal routes to meaningfully limit or otherwise curtail protests in our residential neighborhoods. What we can control is our own reaction to these protests. The protestors that have shown up are clearly well-rehearsed and thrive on the energy and the drama of their actions.
In my opinion, I think the more attention we give to protesters the more we fuel their fire. I think finding ways to show our support and love as a community is the best antidote. We’ll keep doing that, and I know you will too. We’re in this together, Bexley.