PETAL, Miss. (WDAM) - The Petal Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance prohibiting targeted residential picketing Thursday during a special-called meeting.
The ordinance comes after protests on public streets outside the home of Petal Mayor Hal Marx, who has been protested and criticized for comments he made on social media regarding the death of George Floyd.
Marx proposed adding the ordinance to the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting, but the aldermen voted against placing it on the agenda prior to the meeting.
On Thursday night, the Board passed the ordinance with a 6-0 vote after discussing it, with Ward 3 Alderman Clint Moore choosing to abstain from the vote.
Aldermen and the mayor cited concerns for Marx’s neighbors in supporting the ordinance.
“This whole stuff started with a lack of empathy,” Ward 1 Alderman David Clayton said in reference to Marx’s comments. “And my vote tonight is bringing empathy to the neighbors of what started with lack of empathy.”
“Whatever happens, it’s not fair to the neighbors,” Ward 2 Alderman Steve Stringer said. “The ones I have talked to all think this is a good thing to do.”
“Time and time again, people have come and spoke to me about the idea that the neighbors are paying the price for what they viewed as the actions of someone else,” Ward 5 Alderman Tony Ducker said.
Moore said he could not vote for the ordinance, but would not vote against it and derail it.
“I’m going to abstain from voting on this one solely for the purpose that I feel there are people in their homes who have the perception that what is happening is a threat to their peace, and we know that perception is reality,” Moore said.
The ordinance sets a buffer zone to protect residents from “unwanted harassment and intimidation.”
“No person shall engage in targeted picketing activity within three hundred (300) feet of a particular dwelling unit,” the ordinance says. “This section does not and shall not be interpreted to prohibit picketing in a residential area that is not targeted at a particular dwelling unit.”
The ordinance will go into effect immediately.
“The Board of Aldermen finds that the effective date should be immediate due to continuing and threatened protests and counter-protests in the city which threaten public peace, health and safety,” the ordinance says.
Anyone in violation of the ordinance will be subject to a fine not to exceed $500.
Some aldermen raised concerns about limiting First Amendment rights prior to the vote, but it was noted that similar ordinances around the country have been upheld in court.
“The Board of Aldermen finds that picketing at or near the border of a private residence and directed at the inhabitants of the residential dwelling unit is a disfavored activity that is not entitled to a high level of First Amendment protection, according to decisions by State and Federal courts,” the ordinance says.
You can watch the full meeting below: