By Michael A. Fuoco
Cleveland and the ACLU of Ohio reached agreement Wednesday on easing some restrictions on marches, speeches and protests during the Republican National Convention next month.
The biggest change in convention-related regulations -- the subject of a federal lawsuit by the ACLU -- is a major reduction in the size of the "Event Zone" surrounding Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention will be held July 18-21. The zone, in which marches without permits, electronically amplified speeches and certain items are banned, was reduced in the settlement from 3.3 square miles to about 1.7 square miles.
Additionally, the agreement alters the official parade route to increase the visibility of demonstrators participating in marches and allows for three more parade permits to be issued by the city, for a total of 21 during the four-day convention.
Also, although it is still prohibited for those wishing to make speeches to carry a platform into the Event Zone, they now will be permitted to stand upon "pre-existing platforms and objects on public ground." As before, the use of battery-powered bullhorns is permitted for speeches and to lead marches on sidewalks in the Event Zone as long as other pedestrian traffic is not impeded.
Unchanged is the provision that an official "Speakers Platform" will be set up in newly renovated Public Square where people can register to speak over an electronically amplified microphone for 30 minutes each.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit June 14 on behalf of plaintiffs Citizens for Trump and the left-leaning groups Organize Ohio and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.
Citizens for Trump had applied for a permit in April to hold a rally at Voinovich Bicentennial Park followed by a parade down East Ninth Street from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. the first day of the convention. Organize Ohio had applied for a permit in March to stage a parade that same day from 11 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. from Euclid Avenue at 55th Street to Downtown to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1966 racially charged Hough Riots in Cleveland. Both were denied.
Citizens for Trump subsequently applied for a parade permit on the official route and was approved. Additionally, under terms of the settlement, the Trump group also will be able to hold a rally at Settlers Landing Park and Organize Ohio will be permitted to march through Hough, but exact details have not been worked out, said Stephen David, communication manager for the ACLU.
Prohibited in the Event Zone are such items as fireworks, knives, gas masks, glass bottles, tennis balls, coolers, ice chests, umbrellas with metal tips and water guns -- but properly licensed firearms are permitted. In its suit, the ACLU had argued that homeless people who reside within the Event Zone should be exempted from its provisions because they use such prohibited items as tents, string, tape, backpacks, sleeping bags and canned goods.
The city conceded that point, even before a 90-minute hearing June 23 before U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin. He agreed with the ACLU that the Event Zone and other restrictions violated First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. He issued a temporary restraining order and told the sides to enter mediation with fellow U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster.
The groups on Friday announced an agreement in principle, but it took until Wednesday to fine-tune the settlement to the point the Cleveland Board of Control could vote to amend convention regulations.
"This agreement prevents the 2016 RNC from being defined by an unnecessary conflict between freedom and security," said Christine Link, ACLU of Ohio executive director.
"The RNC offers a unique stage to groups from all sides of the political spectrum to lift their voices to a national audience. The new rules ensure that people have meaningful opportunities to express themselves on some of our most important national issues."
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