Marginalizing and manipulating demonstrations

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There was an article in the January 9 Strib concerning one of the first lawsuits to be settled following the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.

As I wrote in another forum, large public protests seem to be increasingly ineffective in recent years. Serious, large protests are systematically marginalized and manipulated by the police and the Secret Service.

Prior to the 2004 convention, New York denied the permits requesting the use of the Great Lawn in Central Park as a rally location for those protesting Republican policies. The permit was denied based on supposed concerns for the grass in Central Park, but protest organizers understood all along that the police were actually more interested in discouraging large numbers of protesters from massing in a single, central location near the convention. The city was shown to have denied constitutionally protected speech and will have to pay legal costs for the suit. In addition, legal precedent was established in relation to using this sort of tactic to limit free speech.

I am not a lawyer, but I understand that the legal cases resolved now protect the right to protest “within sight and sound” of the event, and it now becomes more difficult for protest to be controlled through bogus permit restrictions based on false concerns.

It is probably now too late for the city of St. Paul to back out of their contract with the Republicans, even though I still think it would be wise. Congress just passed (and George W. Bush just signed) legislation approving the $50 million for extra overtime, tasers, holding pens and so on. So the legal basis for giving the convention to Tampa has now passed. St. Paul will have all the tear gas it needs.

The point of the article for me, however, is that these events have a VERY long shadow. New York has not settled much of anything in terms of the false-arrest and false-imprisonment lawsuits. Those will take years and years and years. And while the $50 million for “security” has finally come through, I still maintain that St. Paul will come out as a huge net financial loser on this whole thing, by the time the costs of all the lawsuits get tallied up.

The St. Paul City Council could still minimize the negative consequences of this convention by working with local protesters in the permitting process. Sadly, this is still not happening; the Council still has refused permission to the police to act on the multiple permit requests that have been submitted.

What is this all about? Does the City Council really want a bunch of last-minute surprises with tens of thousands of people and whole world watching us on television? This doesn’t sound good for any of us, frankly.

Charley Underwood is a kindergarten teacher who was officially recognized as a pacifist by his draft board in 1964.

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