National Park Service Considers Charging Protesters Occupying National Mall
The National Park Service is looking to change regulations regarding demonstrations and special events. They recently asked for public feedback to look at ways to recover costs for ensuring public safety and security during demonstrations in and around the National Mall.
There’s been an increase of demonstrations in the past decade, according to Brent Everett, acting chief of communications at National Mall Memorial Park.
“The complexity of the demonstrations has significantly increased and the impact that that has on the parks and the U.S. park police’s operations has increased,” he said.
The NPS cites the 2012 Occupy D.C. movement as an example of the complexity of protests. The demonstration ended up costing close to $500,000 in law-enforcement and other support personnel resources.
“While we always support the right to exercise the First Amendment right to speech and assembly, we want to know the public’s view on whether that’s an appropriate expenditure of National Park Service funds or whether we should attempt to recover costs for supporting these kinds of events if the group seeking the permit for the event has the ability to cover the cost,” Everett said.
Michael Heaney, a political scientist at the University of Michigan and an expert on protest and social movements, said the cost of demonstrations is a government responsibility and that the proposed changes would curtail the symbolic value of D.C.'s parks.
“Demonstrations in Washington, D.C., are one of the key ways that citizens are able to express their voices on many public policy issues, and it’s the main way that doesn’t require them to have a lot of money," he said. "Most of the other ways that citizens would be able to connect with their representatives involves lobbying or campaign contributions which are all really expensive.”
By the end of the public comment period, the National Park Service received over 70,000 comments. The goal is to develop a comprehensive plan to best facilitate the use and enjoyment of the National Mall while protecting and preserving the monuments and the memorials.