Debate in Minneapolis over city's protest permit policyby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Members of the Minneapolis city council are at odds over a proposal to regulate public demonstrations. The creators of the law say it will help the city handle the multiple protests likely during the Republican National Convention in September. Opponents say it places unneccessary restrictions on the first amendment rights of protestors.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The Republican Convention will be held in St. Paul, but Minneapolis city officials expect some demonstrations in their city.
Protest sites could include hotels where Republican delegates are staying or the streets along which delegates will travel to the Xcel Center.
The new law applies to groups of 50 people or more who want to have exclusive access to a public sidewalk. They can get priority over other groups who want to use the same space at the same time, as long as they register first.
Opponents say they that amounts to a mandatory permit requirement. But council member Ralph Remington, a co-author of the ordinance, says that's not so.
"We're not saying they have to get a permit. We're only saying they have to get a permit under these circumstances and if they want to," he says. "If they want priority over a space over another group, but if they can work it out with another group on their own, no harm no foul. Everybody's there. Hey, we've got nothing to do with it."
Opponents of the ordinance, like council member Cam Gordon, worry that some activist groups could use this as a way to block organizations with opposing views from holding demonstrations in key areas.
"For example, a particular area around a hotel where there's a particular meeting," Gordon explains. "Well, some groups might know about the meeting ahead of time and decide well, we're going to make sure that we get exclusive rights to this patch of sidewalk, so we have it. And later other organizers can't come in and also have their voice heard."
The Minneapolis city attorney's office is against the law as well as the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.
MCLU director Chuck Samuelson says the introduction of the law several months before the RNC will make it hard for his organization to challenge it in court.
Samuelson also says the Minneapolis ordinance is similar to proposals in other cities that have hosted political conventions.
"These conventions are federalized and these local cities have become, basically, the blocking backs for the federal government," Samuelson says. "These laws are created, not in Minneapolis or St. Paul, but are created in Washington D.C. and executed by local police officers through local city councils."
But council member Ralph Remington says the Minneapolis law, if passed, will be more progressive than those in other cities. He says that's because the restrictions contained in this ordinance are minimal.
"You can't drink everywhere, you can't smoke everywhere, you can't carry a gun everywhere," he says. "All of those things are protected constitutionally, but have time, place and manner restrictions around them. So this is merely a time, place and manner restriction."
Council members Gary Schiff and Cam Gordon are two of the most vocal opponents of the law on the council. They both are planning to introduce amendments to the proposal when the council meets to vote on it later this week.
- All Things Considered, 06/03/2008, 5:54 p.m.