Published on Friday, March 24, 2000 in the Philadelphia Daily News
Planning To Protest The GOP Convention In Philly This Summer? Take A Number
by Jenice M. Armstrong and Erin Einhorn
Want to picket at the Republican National Convention this summer?
Take a number.
The Philadelphia Police Department plans to hold a lottery to decide which groups will be allowed to demonstrate.
Groups whose numbers are drawn will be steered toward a specially-designated "free-speech site" in FDR Park, hundreds of feet from the convention site at the First Union Center.
They'll get 50 minutes to make their point, then another group will get a chance. Opposing viewpoints will be separated.
It's all part of the department's efforts to avoid a repeat of the type of violence that happened in Seattle last fall during a meeting of the World Trade Organization.
"If some folks think they can come in and disrupt the convention, that ain't going to happen," Police Commissioner John Timoney said.
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday vowed to fight the zone's designation if the city doesn't make provisions for protesters to demonstrate at other sites.
Stefan Presser, the ACLU's legal director, complained about an "omnibus special event permit" that Republicans have been given to allow them first crack at certain public spaces.
He pointed out that Unity 2000, a multi-issue coalition of demonstrators, has twice been denied a permit to use the Benjamin Franklin Parkway during the convention scheduled from July 31 through Aug. 3. But under the omnibus permit deal, the Republians have the right to use it if they wish.
It's the same thing at Washington Square Park. An ad hoc group of physicians concerned about health care applied in February for a permit to stage a demonstration there, but is still awaiting permission, Presser said. Meanwhile, that space is set aside for the Republicans should they decide to use it.
Other possible public demonstration sites that have been set aside for the Republicans include John F. Kennedy Plaza, Head House Square, Dilworth Plaza and the City Hall Courtyard.
"Unless we resolve this," Presser said, "this is a matter that will end up before a federal judge."
In a related matter, City Councilman Rick Mariano introduced a bill in Council yesterday that would ban masks and hoods worn "with the specific intent to intimidate or threaten another person."
"I don't think there'll be a sweep of people wearing masks," Mariano said. "We put in there where it's not to be construed to take away from people's constitutionally protected First Amendment right to free speech . . . I look at this as a tool for the police department to use to keep order during this convention."
The bill would make exceptions for all masks and hoods worn for holidays, sports, constumes, or for medical or safety reasons. But those worn for rabble-rousing reasons could be grounds for arrest and a $75 fine.
It was inspired by similar laws in the south designed to prevent KKK members from wearing hoods. Mariano had help crafting it from members of the Anti-Defamation League, with whom he met last week in the aftermath of a comment he made on the radio that some complained was insulting to Jews.
As for the free-speech zone, it'll be about 190 feet long and 40 feet deep, and capable of accommodating about 1,500 protesters, police said.
©2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.