Demonstrators beware: you won't be seen or heard
When Remapping Debate asked John Bennett, the assistant chief of operations of the Tampa Police Department, what specific past incidents the policies were based on, he could not name one. Instead, he said, the recommendations are primarily based on the policies adopted by other convention cities in the past, and that he was sure that “those policies were based on previous events.”
Genuine embrace or bare minimum?
But despite the restrictions, officials in both Charlotte and Tampa said that they were doing everything in their power to make sure that people who wanted to demonstrate at the conventions felt welcome and safe.
When asked what, specifically, the City was doing to make demonstrators feel welcome, Shimberg pointed to a “Whereas provision” in the proposed ordinance that says, in part, “Whereas, it is the public policy of the City that persons and groups have a First Amendment right to organize and participate in peaceful assemblies and parades on the sidewalks and rights-of-way and in the parks of the City…”
“It doesn’t matter if they put in a lot of nice language,” said Kris Hermes of the National Lawyers’ Guild. “The legal substance of the ordinances indicates the real intent.”
“Cities will often say that they’re going out of their way to encourage free speech,” said Alex Vitale of Brooklyn College, “but the truth, what you see historically, is that cities do the bare minimum that they are required to do legally, and nothing more.”
That, some say, is a significant loss. “The ability to speak and be heard to try and change society for the better is something that people have fought and died for” said Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “I don’t think anybody wants to live in a country where preserving that right is not one of the highest priorities.”