After a protest against Governor Gavin Newsom (D)’s statewide stay-at-home order at the state capital, California has become the first state to effectively ban protests and demonstrations during the coronavirus outbreak.
Monday’s protest drew hundreds of Californians–possibly over a thousand–to Sacramento in opposition to Newsom’s restrictions, which many say are unconstitutional. Many protesters stayed in their cars and drove around the area honking their resistance, but others stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity against the orders that have shut down thousands of small businesses in the state.
The protesters had a permit from California Highway Patrol’s protection section, which is now saying they violated the terms of the permit by failing to observe social distancing guidelines and wear masks, the Sacramento Bee reported.
“Permits are issued to provide safe environments for demonstrators to express their views. In this case, the permit for the convoy was issued with the understanding that the protest would be conducted in a manner consistent with the state’s public health guidance,” a CHP statement to the Bee read. “That is not what occurred, and CHP will take this experience into account when considering permits for this or any other group.”
Newsom said that he wasn’t aware that protesters planned to gather on foot and had thought they would remain in their cars, the Bee reported.
CHP did not intervene during the protest and had prepared for it by placing seven porta-potties and two handwashing stations in the area, as well as directing organizers where to place a lecturn and speakers. Nevertheless, CHP has now decided to stop issuing permits for any further protests until health guidelines permit large groups to gather.
“In the interest of public safety and the health of all Californians during the COVID-19 pandemic, effective immediately the California Highway Patrol will deny any permit requests for events or activities at all state facilities, to include the State Capitol, until public health officials have determined it is safe to gather again,” the CHP said.
Further protests were planned before the announcement that no further permits would be given to protest on state property. Some protesters wanted restrictions lifted so that residents could reopen businesses, and others disliked stay-at-home restrictions that they felt violated First Amendment rights to assemble.
Activist group may sue CHP
According to Orange County rally organizer Stefanie Duncan Fetzer, the protesters may file a lawsuit against the state for violating their right to free speech with the ban.
“It’s unfortunate that the CHP has opted to violate their oath of office by violating the Constitution,” she said.
She also said the group had applied for another permit to protest on May 1, adding, “We’re not going to change our plans.”
The situation could set up a showdown between California state government and protesters. It will be interesting to see how far governors will go to take away people’s freedoms in the name of safety and which side will come out victorious in the end.