ALPHARETTA, Ga. — A week after a large political rally took over an Alpharetta park, neighbors say they’re upset the city allowed the event to take place.
Attorneys Lin Wood and Sidney Powell held the rally Wednesday at Wills Park to lay out their concerns about the presidential election.
Video from the event shows hundreds of people packed into a covered outdoor space to hear the speakers.
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“I think it’s totally wrong,” said Louise Lascik, who doesn’t live far from the venue. “Firstly, nobody was wearing a mask. Nobody was wearing a mask.”
Lascik said she was nearby canvassing for Senate Candidate, Jon Ossoff when she encountered rally attendees.
“They saw our sign. They said, ‘Are you here to do a counter protest?’ And we said, ‘No, we’re just here. We’re gonna be doing some canvassing,’ and then they flipped out telling us that we were radical socialists and get out of our country,” she said.
According to Governor Kemp’s COVID-19 order, gatherings of 50 or more people are prohibited unless social distancing and mask wearing can take place.
At the time of the rally, the Fulton County epidemiology report showed Alpharetta was experiencing a nearly 50% spike in COVID-19 cases over that two week period, and its case rate was among the highest in the county.
Petchenik reached out to the Fulton County Health Department to see if they’ve linked any cases to the event, but as of Tuesday afternoon, he had not heard back.
“I kind of don’t have any sympathy you choose to be stupid,” said Lascik. “But the problem is, you’re spreading it to other people, and it’s just not right.”
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Petchenik reached out to organizer, L. Lin Wood, who sent him this statement about the event.
“The press conference was outdoors,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Also, each person who chose to attend had the freedom under the United States Constitution to make the decision for himself or herself whether to wear a mask and/or social distance due to the China virus.”
Alpharetta officials told Petchenik they received more than a dozen complaints from residents about allowing the evident, but because it was considered a “peaceful protest” they did not feel the need to intervene. They provided Petchenik their response about those concerns:
“The subject event occurred without a permit and was neither sanctioned, sponsored, nor supported by the City of Alpharetta. It was, however, not dissimilar to the protest events that occurred in a public park in Downtown Alpharetta earlier this year in that it was Constitutionally protected free speech occurring in what the law considers a “traditional public forum.” Locations such as public parks and sidewalks have consistently been viewed by the Court as traditional public forums where citizens have the right to peaceably assemble and exercise their right to freedom of speech.
The City has certain limited rights and authority to regulate the time and place of such lawful activity but cannot generally disallow the use of public parks or sidewalks for such purposes. Due to the number of people assembled, the potential for counter-protests, and similar factors, the City did have police officers on site to monitor what was occurring and to respond if issues of public safety presented themselves. Aside from this, however, the City provided no resources or support to the event or its organizers beyond the use of the physical space under the aforementioned legal requirements.
Regarding the subject and content of the Constitutionally protected speech, that is not something that can be legally regulated by the City or be a factor in the ability of an individual or group to exercise their rights to freedom of speech and/or peaceable assembly. Those are rights that are fundamental to American life and governance, and the City of Alpharetta will not act to interfere with the lawful exercise of such. In fact, we have a responsibility and legal obligation to protect it. Finally, I would like to address the question of why participants at the event were not required to wear masks or other protective face coverings. Again, the answer is found in the legal limitations under which the City must operate.
The executive order issued by the Governor on November 30 and in effect through December 15 extended the State’s prohibition on any local ordinance requiring persons to wear face coverings, masks, face shields, or any other personal protective equipment while on public property. We certainly understand and appreciate that the subject event being held in a public park creates frustration and even anger among some Alpharetta citizens. While the underlying facts outlined herein likely do little to address those feelings, I hope that you and others can understand and appreciate the legal requirements and limitations under which it occurred.”
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