Wednesday, July 2, 2008

ACLU amends lawsuit as Denver Democratic Convention ‘free speech zone’ plans revealed

The infamous “free speech zone,” set to make a comeback at Denver’s upcoming Democratic National Convention, needs to be within earshot of delegates, a coalition of civil liberties advocates backed by the ACLU said Monday.

Chain link fencing or chicken wire at the end of the parade route, about 700 feet away from the Pepsi Center under the current plan, would separate demonstrators and protesters from other convention attendees, the Rocky Mountain News reported. The coalition have amended their pending lawsuit against the United States Secret Service and the City and County of Denver, filed in May, saying that the plan could violate the visitors’ First Amendment rights, echoing the corralling and effective silencing of protesters at the 2004 gala in Boston. A judge in that case had ruled the “free speech zones” unconstitutional, but said that the suit was filed too late to order that plans be changed.

“No human voice, or any other sound,” ACLU counsel said in Monday’s amended complaint, “can ever hope to reach a person at the entrance.”

The case will go to trial on July 29.

Preparations for the upcoming convention, for which Denver has been federally granted $50 million, may include military choppers, as seen during a mid-June Department of Justice drill, details of which could not be revealed by the Denver Police Department. Lt. Nathan Potter, a military spokesperson with Special Operations Command, called the exercise “routine preparation for the global war on terrorism.”

Denver Sheriff division chief Marie Kielar also told Colorado Confidential in May that her department is preparing for convention-related arrests to top 1,200. The City and County of Denver will not make publicly available detention plans, such as where those arrested will be held, before the convention. In addition to the May suit, the ACLU has demanded that the City and County make publicly available the procedures it plans to follow in processing those arrested at its downtown jail.

The Monday complaint called not only for a protest zone closer to the Pepsi Center, but also that it large enough to host all demonstrators, and for searches to be conducted only when there is probable cause.

“Simply put, we are going to abide by the Constitution,” Denver city attorney David Fine said Monday.


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