People familiar with the “Special Event” permitting process in Greensboro and with Gov. Roy Cooper’s restrictions due to COVID-19 have asked how the recent protests in Greensboro could have been held legally.

The city regulations require people to apply for a special event permit at least 60 days in advance of that event and that was not done for the recent protests. Also, Cooper’s Executive Order 141 limits outdoor gatherings to no more than 25 people. The protest in LeBauer Park on Sunday, June 7 attracted a crowd estimated at 5,000.

The short answer as to why the protests were legal is that the First Amendment states that people have the right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Because of that First Amendment right, Greensboro’s special event ordinance has an exception for “Demonstrations that do not involve the use of vehicles, animals, fireworks, pyrotechnics or equipment other than sound equipment.” The special events coordinator is supposed to be notified 48 hours in advance of the event, but there is no requirement for a permit.

The First Amendment is also the answer for Executive Order 141, which unlike previous executive orders dealing with the COVID-19 crisis has “Section 4. Exemptions from This Executive Order. Worship, religious, and spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights are exempt from all the requirements of this Executive Order …”

The executive order “strongly urges” people participating in exempted activities to practice social distancing and avoid holding mass gatherings.

So the people peacefully participating in the protests were not required to have a permit for the protests and were strongly urged but not required to comply with Cooper’s executive order.

Greensboro Special Events Coordinator Kendrick Mayes said that while people have to apply for a permit to close streets for events, in the case of demonstrations the Greensboro police will close streets if necessary as a matter of public safety.

He said that when it is a matter of public safety, it is a police decision and not something that his office handles.