DENVER - The designated protest zone at the Democratic National Convention will be more than two football fields away from the Pepsi Center - a revelation that drew new legal challenges Monday from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU, which represents 13 protest groups, says the site effectively denies protesters their right to free speech because delegates and others attending the DNC won't be able to see or hear them.
According to a map released by the city late last week, the protest zone will be in the southern corner of Lot A, about 700 feet from the Pepsi Center. In some places, the view of the building's main doors is obstructed by trees and sculptures.
"No human voice, or any other sound . . . can ever hope to reach a person at the entrance," lawyers for the ACLU wrote in an amended complaint filed in federal court in Denver.
But Denver city attorney David Fine said the city is confident people in the area "will be within sight and sound of the delegates."
The location of the protest zone is significant to demonstrators because most of the area closest to the Pepsi Center, including adjacent sidewalks and streets, will be closed to the public for security reasons.
In a complaint filed in federal court, the ACLU is asking U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger to order the city and the Secret Service to locate the protest zone, which will be surrounded by a wire mesh fence, closer to the Pepsi Center.
Krieger has scheduled a trial for July 29 - less than a month before the convention starts - to settle that and other issues raised by the ACLU. Krieger was also asked to:
* Bar authorities from searching people entering the protest zone unless police have probable cause, or from declaring that police have the right to search anyone in the protest area.
The city has not said how it will handle searches, but Fine said Monday that, "Simply put, we are going to abide by the Constitution."
* Allow protesters to hand out leaflets to people attending the convention who are within the secured perimeter of the Pepsi Center. The city has said this will be prohibited.
* Allow parades to pass near the Pepsi Center and at times when delegates are present.
The city's approved parade route runs from near Civic Center, west on Colfax Avenue and north on Speer Boulevard to Lari mer Street. People may then walk through the Auraria campus to Seventh Street and Auraria Parkway, which is the entry and exit point for the protest zone in Parking Lot A.
It does not include Chopper Circle or Ninth Street adjacent to the Pepsi Center as the protest groups want, and the route through the campus will not accommodate floats or vehicles.
The city is allowing parades only between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Convention organizers have said delegates will arrive at the Pepsi Center each day around 3 p.m., about an hour before the convention program begins.
* Approve alternate parade routes for two groups. One group wants to hold an immigration parade that would start at 29th Street and Speer Boulevard and run south to Sunken Gardens park. The other wants to march from Civic Center to the federal courthouse at 18th and Stout streets to urge the release of "political prisoners." The city has denied both requests.
City officials and the Secret Service have said they must balance the rights of people to express themselves with the need for security during the DNC, scheduled for Aug. 25-28.
They insist the public will still have ample opportunity to communicate with the delegates and others attending the convention, whether it's outside the Pepsi Center or at events scheduled throughout the city.
© 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co.