CHARLOTTE — The Freedom House Church was cited for holding an event on Saturday at Romare Bearden Park after church officials said there was a miscommunication with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation and park guidelines.
There was a communication breakdown because the church thought they had the green light to set up a stage and host a concert at the uptown park. The event was almost canceled before it started after park rangers arrived at the event.
“Here we are trying to help the city with providing prayer and worship and were told, ‘If you do this, you will be arrested,’” said Troy Maxwell, senior pastor at Freedom House Church.
They thought they were cleared to host the concert.
“Well, we wanted to have a stage,” Maxwell said. “We told (the city) that from the very beginning, and we were told, ‘Don’t worry about that right now.’”
Park officials said in a statement to Channel 9, “No structures such as tents, stages or generators are permitted inside the park.”
Organizers were asked by park staff repeatedly to remove the stage and given the option to conduct the event without the stage, so that they could remain in compliance with County Risk Management guidelines. However, they refused.
“So for us, if I have to pay a fine,” said Olan Carder, director of operations at Freedom House Church. “If I have to go to jail, we were willing to do that, to do the event and make it happen.”
Carder said they thought they were within their rights to erect a stage.
“We had notified the city. And so it was in the afternoon, getting pretty close to the event,” Carder said. “Then a ton of park rangers start showing up all of a sudden.”
The church was given a citation, which reads, “Without authorization, erected a stage and remained in Romare Bearden Park conducting a large concert after being notified not to remain with no permit.”
Church leaders believe that considering all of the accommodations made for protesters last summer that authorities should not have had an issue with Saturday’s concert.
“It shouldn’t be so hard, you know?” Carder said. “If we’re trying to put on an event that’s gonna help our city.”
“As a local pastor, watching what happened a year ago, it just felt it was a disproportionate response to something that was very peaceful,” Maxwell said.
Church leaders said that most of the officers were friendly Saturday. The event continued without anyone going to jail.
Statement from Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation:
Freedom Church was issued both a protest permit and an amplified sound permit by CMPD for Saturday, June 12.
The following is a list of rules that Park and Recreation staff distribute to any persons involved in the organization of pickets, protest or rallies on County property. Freedom Church was, like other organizations involved in such activities, sent an email with the following information.
- The park must remain open to the public at all times.
- No structures such as tents, stages or generators are permitted inside the park.
- Sounds louder than a boombox volume level require a CMPD Amplified Sound Permit.
- Organizers of Pickets/Protests/Rallies/Demonstrations should submit a Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) Intent to Picket form for notification.
- Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department (MCPRD) is unable to provide staff, electrical support, waste removal or other facility-related resources.
- Permanent public restrooms are open from sunrise to dusk daily, but hours are subject to change due to maintenance requirements.
In violation of the second bullet point above, event organizers from Freedom Church erected a stage in Romare Bearden Park. Organizers were asked by staff repeatedly to remove the stage and given the option to conduct the event without the stage so that they could remain in compliance with County risk management guidelines; however, they refused. Thus, they were issued a citation for trespassing.
Statement from Allied:
“On Saturday, June 12, Allied Universal Security Professionals were asked to assist park rangers and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) in regards to a large gathering located at Romare Bearden Park in Charlotte, North Carolina. Based on information received from CMPD and the park rangers, it was Allied Universal’s understanding that the concert organizer did not have the proper permit. Consistent with our assigned responsibilities, a citation was issued. At Allied Universal, our highest priority is to serve, secure and care for the people and businesses of the Charlotte community.”
(Watch: Celebration held in Romare Bearden Park to mark namesake’s birthday)
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