Published February 20, 2004
BOSTON – Attorneys are challenging a preliminary security plan for this summer's Democratic National Convention (search) that would limit protesters to a small patch of land virtually out of sight of the convention hall.
The plan would restrict protests to a triangle-shaped site near the FleetCenter (search), which attorneys fear could be obscured from view by buses and television satellite trucks, making demonstrations useless.
"What's the point to just have a rally when you don't have an audience for whom the rally is organized?" said Urszula Masny-Latos, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (search).
A spokeswoman for Boston police said the department is committed to accommodating protesters, but because of the urban setting, there are few open areas near the arena suitable for demonstrations.
"Our first priority is public safety, but people have a right to come and be heard, and we totally understand that, and we're supportive of that," police spokeswoman Mariellen Burns said.
If protesters are restricted only to the small pen without fear of arrest or harassment, attorneys will take their challenge to court, said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (search) of Massachusetts. The ACLU has joined with the lawyers guild to ask police to change the plan so delegates will have to walk past protesters.
Convention organizers are asking groups that want to demonstrate to use a proposed "free speech zone" at designated times, with limited protests allowed outside the zone.
A similar situation arose during the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, where protesters were initially restricted to an area blocks from delegates. A federal judge ruled the protest area was unconstitutional and ordered that protesters be allowed to demonstrate in a parking lot across the street from the convention's entrance.