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Judge finds restrictions on protesters unconstitutional

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Newsgathering         Jul 28, 2000    

Judge finds restrictions on protesters unconstitutional

  • California A federal judge ruled that proposed security plans for the Democratic National Convention would violate protestors’ First Amendment rights.

While there is a significant need for security at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, the proposed 185-acre “secured zone” surrounding the conference burdens more speech than is necessary, U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess held on July 20.

Feess ruled that the city of Los Angeles’ proposal allowing the public to hold demonstrations on a stage 260 yards away from conference attendants did not provide an adequate means of communication for protestors. “The distance ensures that only those delegates with the sharpest eyesight and most acute hearing have any chance of getting the message,” the judge said.

The court also found that two other provisions of the Los Angeles municipal code place unnecessary burdens on demonstrators. The first code section requires applications for parade permits to be submitted 40 days prior to the event and gives the city the discretion whether to consider applications received with less notice. “Such a lengthy [time] requirement is patently unconstitutional,” Feess ruled.

The second section, which requires permits for activity “which has the effect purpose or propensity to draw a crowd of onlookers,” was found to be vague and overbroad.

The city and the Los Angeles Police Department have yet to publicize details regarding the exact locations of the reduced “secured zone” and closer demonstration area ordered in the court’s decision.

Convention planning committees are still trying to devise detailed security plans that ensure the safety of the convention participants and the city, but still allows protestors to exercise their First Amendment rights. Police are considering several measures, including arming officers with paintball guns that shoot balls of pepper spray, to be ready if protests become violent or destructive, according to the Associated Press.

Police Chief Bernard Parks told the AP that his department would be prepared ”for any eventuality” that develops, but does not wants protesters and others to think of the city as an ”armed encampment.”

The ACLU of Southern California sought the injunction on behalf of Service Employees International Union, Local 660; the Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal; and the D2K Convention Planning Coalition, all of whom plan to protest at the convention.

“The LAPD until now has insisted on presenting us with a false choice: security or freedom of speech,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a press release.

(Service Employee International Union, Local 660 v. City of Los Angeles) SK

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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