Monday, March 4, 2013

The Savannah Incident

(Note:  I am a street preacher, and for the last several years  have taken a group of  simply wonderful people up to Savannah GA to preach during the St. Patricks Day Festival.  A few years back we had an incident and I was asked to  write up a report  to the Christian Law Association in order to get a cover letter for future incidents. This is  that report. I have excluded  some of the names becuase I dont have their permission to publish. )

My name is Michael S. Alford, and as a member of Camden Baptist Church in St. Mary’s Georgia I led a group of people up to Reynolds Park in Savannah Georgia on March 20, 2010 to preach on the streets in front of the statue commemorating  John Wesley’s work .  We have done this for several years now without incident until this year.
  We set up and began preaching about 11:00. I started out, followed by Mr. Doug P-------, then Mr. Jeff B----, then Mr. Aubrey M------- and then Mr. Darnell R-------. While Mr. R------ was preaching, a police officer approached him. Being visually impaired, Mr. R------- did not realize at first that the officer wanted to speak with him.  As the leader of the group I took the initiative to speak to the officer while the preaching continued. A second officer soon joined us.
  The officer informed me that there had been complaints about the noise level. She then told me that although we hadn’t broken any laws, since a complaint had been made she was obligated to let us know and  ask us to keep it down. I thanked the officers for their time and told them that  it was not our intention to  cause any disturbance or offend. However, since we were in compliance with the law, it was out intention to continue. I asked them for their names and badge numbers for reference.  Their names and badge numbers are Craneweir  ( Badge number  10491) and Carlino ( Badge number  11164).  Officer Carlino then asked me if I had a permit. My reply was that I did not have a permit and it was my understanding that I did not need one. The officers left.
About an half an hour later, the officers returned. Officer Craneweir and Carlino returned.  Officer  Craneweir told me that we were in violation of city noise ordinances.  I politely disagreed but told the officers that if they could show us on the decibel meter that we were in violation, we would  cease.  Officer Carlino warned me that he was within his rights to  write me a citation.  I explained that they would need the decibel meter readings in order to cite me under the noise ordinances. Officer Craneweir claimed that she didn’t need a decibel meter, she simply had to be able to hear me. I reasserted that it was my understanding that we were operating within the confines of the law, but if it could be proven that we were in violation, we would stop.  The officers left.
  About an half hour later,as we were breaking for lunch, Officers Craneweir and Carlino returned. Officer Carlino told me that I was in violation of having a gathering without a permit. I asked him what the provisions were, specifically how many people constituted a gathering. He said he wasn’t sure.   Officer Cranweier meanwhile took a phone call from her desk sergeant and was apparently told  to shut us down. Officer  Craneweir  told me that we  could not stay in the park and preach. I asked her for a suggested secondary location.  She suggested that I seek out a local church that would let me preach. I explained to Officer Craneweir that open-air preaching, by its very nature is intended to reach the lost. She recommended that I walk and preach and that if I was stationary, I would be in violation of the law. I told her that it was my understanding that to preach in front of an open business whether mobile or not, was an actual violation and that we were trying our best to comply with the law by preaching in an open public park.  I also pointed out the statue of John Wesley doing the very thing we were doing not 30 feet from us. She assured me that I was incorrect and could preach in front of open businesses while transiting. Officer Craneweir informed me that because I wasn’t a Savannah resident, that I would actually be arrested as opposed to simply being issued a citation. I reasserted that we were being very compliant with the law and after breaking for lunch, it was our intention to   return and resume preaching. Officer Craneweir  informed me that if I returned to Reynolds Square and preached in a way above a conversational tone of voice that I would be arrested. I thanked the officers again for their civility and time in this matter, and reasserted that I was functioning well within the confines of the law, but after lunch we would make a decision about how to proceed. Officer Carlino told me that when we returned he would be waiting for us. I asked Officer Carlino about his salvation. He ended the conversation and the officers left.
  Over lunch I decided that since I had promised my pastor that no one would go to jail on this trip that we would return to Reynolds Square, pass out gospel tracts and then leave Savannah. Upon returning home I researched the local Savannah ordinances and confirmed that we were within our rights to preach and that no permit is required. It is my intention to pursue this matter so that our rights may be upheld and police misunderstanding about  open air preaching can be remedied.
(As a follow-up I contacted the  City Attorney of Savannah and was told that since there was no arrest, and no citation, there was no paper trail and I had no  proof with which to proceed.)
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