Lawrence City Commission to address concerns raised by ‘Defend the Flag’ protest; city attorney to explain First Amendment

Protesters carrying American flags and a hybrid Confederate flag, along with counter-protesters carrying rainbow flags, stand near the north entrance to South Park, south of the Douglas County Courthouse, Saturday afternoon, Feb. 3, 2018.

After some residents raised concerns, the Lawrence City Commission will discuss a protest in downtown Lawrence that brought Confederate flags to the city’s main thoroughfare.

Earlier this month, the commission heard about 30 minutes of public comment regarding a “Defend the Flag” protest that occurred Feb. 3 in downtown Lawrence. Several residents asked the city to make a statement about the protest and clarify the city’s protest protocol.

At the City Commission’s meeting Tuesday, the commission will make a statement regarding the protest, the city attorney will provide a review of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, and the police chief will recap the events of Feb. 3, according to a city memo. The Journal-World has reached out to commissioners to get more information about the statement but has not yet heard back.

Lawrence police previously reported that one arrest was made and one citation issued in what they described as a “largely non-violent” protest. The protest was reportedly in response to a “Drag the Flag” protest that had allegedly been scheduled for the same day but that did not occur. During the protest, people on foot and in vehicles traveled up and down Massachusetts Street displaying flags, including some Confederate flags.

Several of the residents who spoke to the commission earlier this month described feeling scared, unwelcome or threatened by the protesters. Some also referred to a video circulating on social media that showed some of the protesters yelling at a resident with an anarchist flag and one protester breaking the flag’s pole.

Porter Arneill, the city’s director of communications and creative resources, previously told the Journal-World that marches held on public property generally do not require any official city oversight or permits, but monitoring by police may occur if deemed necessary.

In other business, the commission will:

• Consider making changes to the city’s Lifeline program, which provides a 65 percent utility discount to low-income residents age 60 and older. City staff is proposing that discount rate be decreased to also provide discounts to low-income residents who are disabled or a U.S. Veteran, regardless of age. As proposed, the total amount discounted would not change. The low-income discount for those 60 and older would change to 35 percent, and the difference would be used to provide low-income veterans and disabled people with a $5 monthly discount.

• Consider adopting a charter ordinance, on second and final reading, that explicitly authorizes the city to use alternate construction methods for city projects. Specifically, the ordinance allows the city to use methods that deviate from the traditional sealed-bid procedure for future construction projects if the commission votes to do so.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.