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ACLU sues Cleveland over GOP convention protest restrictions

By Eric DuVall
ACLU sues Cleveland over GOP convention protest restrictions
The public space immediately outside Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland will be cordoned off for security purposes during the Republican National Convention next month. The ACLU has sued the city, saying restrictions on public demonstrations violate the First Amendment. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

CLEVELAND, June 17 (UPI) -- The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Cleveland, accusing the city of First Amendment violations affecting protesters and residents during the Republican National Convention next month.

The ACLU said in a court filing Tuesday the city's expansive implementation of a 3.3-square-mile "event zone" surrounding Quicken Loans Arena and subsequent rules for public demonstrations and security restrictions inside the zone are "arbitrary, unnecessary, and unjustifiable."

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The ACLU also charged the city has dragged its feet in processing permit applications by groups seeking to stage demonstrations at the event.

"The restrictions on speech put in place by the city of Cleveland are arbitrary, unnecessary and unjustifiable," said Christine Link, executive director for the ACLU of Ohio. "The current rules for demonstrations at the RNC are actively blocking groups from all sides of the political spectrum from participating in their government. City officials have refused to make proper accommodations to protect free speech, so we are asking the courts to step in now."

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In response, lawyers for the city said reasonable accommodations have been made to allow all members of the public unfettered access up to the hard security perimeter set up by the Secret Service, among other accommodations.

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Unlike in some previous convention cities, there will not be a no-protest zone surrounding the convention site, said Barbara Langhenry, the director of the city's legal department. Both protesters and those attending the convention will be free to gather, walk and carry signs, provided they are not acting violently or blocking pedestrian or vehicle traffic, she said.

The ACLU in its complaint said the city is not processing park user permits within the event zone, except for two "small parks" near the event site. It has also restricted all parade requests to a single predetermined parade route and limited the duration of any single march to 50 minutes in length.

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Langhenry said the city is working "in good faith" to assist groups seeking to stage demonstrations that do not fall in line with the city's predetermined demonstration locations in the square, at the two parks, or along the parade route.

The city plans to prohibit demonstrators from erecting any stage or other platforms, including someone literally standing on a soap box, except for a stage being set up inside the expansive Cleveland Public Square.

Demonstrators seeking to use the common stage must submit a permit application to the city and all protests are limited to 30 minutes inside the square.

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Security restrictions inside the large event zone also prohibit carrying everyday items such as water bottles, string and even tennis balls, which the ACLU said presents an undue burden on residents, particularly the homeless.

Link said people using the Cleveland State University tennis courts, which are located inside the event zone, would technically be committing a crime, as would shoppers who buy bottled water from one of two grocery stores and dozens of convenience stores within the zone.

A civil rights group has asked permission to stage a march during the convention from the predominantly black Hough neighborhood to the arena to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Cleveland's Hough race riots.

The city said requests outside the designated parade route would be evaluated, but noted the need for clear routes to and from the stadium for convention-goers and the estimated 15,000 members of the media expected to descend on Cleveland over the course of the four-day event.

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