A sign outside the main entrance to the Charlotte Marriott City Center. Security guards tried to prevent people who could not prove they were hotel guests from accessing public areas, including restaurants.
CHARLOTTE — If official Charlotte was hoping to roll out the welcome mat for the tens of thousands of visitors who have come to town for the Democratic National Convention, the folks in charge in Uptown are off to a rough start.
Case in point: My Carolina Journal colleague Barry Smith and I were looking for a place to find a quick dinner in Uptown. We didn’t stray far from our lodgings, hoping to dodge the oppressive humidity and torrential downpours that had wiped out part of the Labor Day CarolinaFest celebration.
The City Center Marriott was a couple of blocks from our lodgings, and we saw there was a sports bar, Champions, inside, accessible through the ground floor lobby. So we went toward the front door, only to see several signs reading: “No Public Entry, September 1-7. Overnight Guests Only. Security Checkpoint.”
The area near the entrance was thick with security forces. As we approached the main door, a guard stopped us, and asked us to show some proof we were guests. We said we couldn’t, but we wanted to eat at Champions. He said OK, but he wasn’t happy about it.
One of my first thoughts: Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory wasn’t kidding (much) when he complained about the excessive security presence in the Queen City. "Welcome to our Gitmo," he told National Review Online's John Fund. (McCrory's objections to pursuing the convention while he was mayor may seem prescient, unfortunately.)
Another early thought: Henderson, you’re not in Denver any more.
In 2008, I was in Denver at the Democrats’ last national presidential convention, working as an editorial writer and editor at the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. There was plenty of security for that DNC, no doubt about it. Roughly 3,000 law enforcement officers from Denver and nearby jurisdictions — more than a few of them in riot gear — provided security for the convention.
But unlike 2008, where the in-your-face security presence was limited to the immediate areas surrounding Pepsi Center, the indoor arena that hosted all but the final day of the convention, police are visible, covering a much larger perimeter, and seemingly everywhere — even at places like the Marriott, which you would think would welcome out-of-town visitors who might someday come back and leave some of their money behind.
The number of police and security personnel in Charlotte is expected to exceed 4,000, and they’ll have the leeway to enforce a raft of new public-safety measures. If followed to the letter, The Associated Press reports, you may be breaking the law if you carry “water bottles, hair spray, socks, or magic markers” within the 100-square-block security zone.
It’s not likely anyone will be arrested for taking a swig from a bottle of Aquafina, but you never know.
I contrast this confrontational atmosphere with what happened in Denver. The city’s showcase is its 1.25-mile 16th Street Mall, home to nearly 400 businesses, and open only to pedestrians, bicycles, and buses.
The mall teems with people daily — especially if the Broncos are home or the Colorado Rockies are playing a day game. And during the 2008 convention, it was bustling, round the clock. Even so, it remained welcoming, even though you couldn’t swing a drunken delegate without hitting someone selling Barack Obama paraphernalia.
The police presence in Denver was visible without being invasive. To be sure, the ACLU was unhappy about the security measures in Denver, but its biggest concerns dealt with the treatment of protesters. City officials wanted to confine protests to a fenced area beyond the “sight and sound” of delegates entering the arena, and won a lawsuit in federal court challenging their plans.
Charlotte police have dealt with small protests as well, including about 800 who participated in Sunday’s Occupy Wall Street-inspired “March on Wall Street South.”
But if Monday offers any indication of what the rest of the week holds, the face Charlotte shows to the rest of the country will have clenched teeth rather than a pleasant smile.
Rick Henderson is managing editor of Carolina Journal. Follow him on Twitter or Tout (@deregulator), and keep track of CJ's coverage of the Democratic National Convention at the Meck Deck blog.