CLEVELAND, Ohio — Two legal groups monitoring Cleveland’s plans for the Republican National Convention on Wednesday pointedly criticized the city’s newly announced rules for the event, calling them “unacceptable.”
“I do know this is something where there are a lot of lawyers looking at what the city is doing and wanting to protect people’s free speech rights,” said Jocelyn Rosnick, a leader with the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, a left-leaning group. “It just seems like with the plans they’ve released … so far just don’t cut it, are unacceptable and far too restrictive.”
City officials on Wednesday released wide-ranging rules for the RNC, scheduled for July 18-21 that largely deal with regulating protest activity and maintaining security.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and others announced the protest route, and released a wide list of common items that would be banned during the RNC within downtown Cleveland, including coolers, tennis balls, squirt guns and various handheld weapons, besides firearms.
They also announced a “speaker’s platform” will be installed in Public Square for people to use in half-hour segments, and said they will set up a process for protest groups to apply for permits to set up in Willard Park, near City Hall, and Perk Plaza, near Superior Ave. and East 12th St.
“It really is an attempt to balance between safety, security and the constitutional rights of people, and to ensure that we have a successful convention here in the city of Cleveland, and that it comes off in a way that puts Cleveland in the best light,” Jackson said.
But Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio, criticized the city’s announced official protest route — a path that takes protesters east over the Lorain-Carnegie bridge before diverting them south at Ontario Street, near Progressive Field.
She also took issue with the city limiting the times protest marches will be allowed during the GOP convention. (On July 18, the city will grant ‘parade’ permits scheduled between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. and on July 19-21, the city will grant permits for marches between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., officials said Wednesday.)
The majority of the route is on the bridge, where a limited number of people would be able to see the demonstrators, Link said. And the protesters wouldn’t be seen or heard by GOP delegates, who generally don’t show up for convention activities until the evening.
“It’s awfully tight and it gets to be a scary situation,” Link said. “Finally when you end the parade route, two things happen. They have people take a sharp right away from the ballpark and Quicken Loans Arena. So they’re not going to get within eyesight of [The Q], nor will anybody see them.”
The ACLU last week threatened to sue Cleveland over what the group says is the city’s delay in acting on applications for protest permits, giving the city a June 1 deadline to act.
Generally, courts have ruled that while government can’t restrict the content of speech, it can in the name of security regulate when, where and how protests occur. So, courts said cities seeking to regulate public assemblies during political conventions must offer an alternative way for protesters to be heard by convention delegates.
Three groups planning to protest the RNC also issued a joint statement criticizing the proposed rules on Wednesday.
“Confining demonstrators to a short route area for a limited time period in the morning and early afternoon flies in the face of the 1st Amendment’s right to free speech and the right to assemble. Based on what has been presented at the press conference by the city of Cleveland on May 25, we find these extreme limitations vague and unacceptable,” read the statement, issued by Larry Bresler of Organize! Ohio, John Penley, a New York progressive activist, and Bryan Hambley, president of State Together Against Trump.
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