Last Saturday (August 12) a group of 25 (or more) supporters of the Confederate Memorial were on the Caddo Courthouse grounds gathered around the memorial; most of the crowd carried a Confederate flag.
On Sunday (August 13) approximately 100 citizens attended a prayer vigil for the victims of the Charlottesville violence; the vigil was held on the Milam Street side of the courthouse.
Thankfully both of these groups were not on the courthouse grounds at the same time; both of these meetings were at the courthouse were unlawful.
Caddo Parish ordinance Sec.32-46 provides that “No persons, group or association shall use the grounds and steps of the parish courthouse for rallies, meetings, exhibits, etc., without prior authorization of the director of buildings and grounds.”
The director of buildings and grounds requires that prior to any use of the courthouse grounds or building a Hold Harmless and Indemnity Agreement must be executed by the Parish and the group conducting the activity. Neither the Confederate Memorial supporters nor the Charlottesville vigil organizer executed the required indemnification agenda.
A public records request revealed that some groups have in fact complied with this Parish ordinance. Two film production companies utilized the courthouse interior for filming after execution of a Hold Harmless agreement, one in June of last year and the other in June of this year. Repairs were made to the Confederate Memorial this year by a Texas company and People Acting for Change and Equality (PACE) conducted a rally and march this year on the courthouse grounds; hold harmless agreements were properly executed before use of the courthouse grounds.
In a July 24 letter to Shreveport Police Chief Alan Crump and Commission Administrator Dr. Wilson, Sheriff Prator outlined the responsible law enforcement agencies for the grounds of the Caddo Parish Courthouse as follows:
“1. When the courthouse is open to the public, Caddo deputies will secure the interior of the courthouse because of statutory and contractual obligations. When Caddo deputies are free from their assigned duties inside the courthouse, they will be asked to randomly patrol the grounds for criminal conduct and, if any is witnessed, the conduct will be addressed by the Caddo deputy until the Shreveport Police Department officers arrive and relieve the Caddo deputy.
2. When the courthouse is closed to the public, the Shreveport Police Department will have all responsibility for the grounds of the courthouse.
3. All rallies, demonstrations, or gatherings of large crowds, whether permitted through the Caddo Parish Commission or not, shall be the responsibility of the Shreveport Police Department. The Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Shreveport Police Department will assist each other and share intelligence and information about any such event.”
Prator acknowledged that, after consultation with the parish attorney in 2015, Section 32-46 is “vague to the point of being very difficult to enforce.” Prator requested that this ordinance be revised to “be clear, concise, objective and most important, enforceable.” No action has been taken by the Parish Commission on amending this ordinance.
The right of public assembly and free speech are fundamental American principles; nonetheless certain restrictions can be validly set by law. In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, the Caddo Commission should take prompt action to amend the ordinance on public assembly. And in the process a review of Prator’s request to designate the 500 block of Texas Street a public park , along with possible fencing, should be a very high priority.