Protesters want to change time of RNC marchby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
The City of St. Paul and a coalition of Republican National Convention protesters appeared to move slightly closer to settling their differences over a proposed march route during the RNC. A federal judge in Minneapolis heard arguments Wednesday on the protesters' request for a different time and route than the city has proposed.
St. Paul, Minn. — The court hearing centered on the impasse over the assigned route and time of day for the march.
The protesters want to march around the Xcel Energy Center, not just through the streets of downtown St. Paul, to the Xcel and then back to the Capitol.
One of the coalition's attorneys, Bob Hennessey, told the judge the city is allowing shuttle and other buses to travel on Kellogg Ave., where the marchers want to go.
Hennessey complained that the march is being planned around the buses, instead of the buses being planned around the march.
City officials said they need that area free for not only buses but also emergency vehicles.
The protesters also oppose the amount of time the city is allowing them for the march, and the time of day.
The original plan called for allowing the protesters to march from the Capitol to within 84 feet of the Xcel. They'd have a start time at noon and would have to be clear of the Xcel by 2 p.m. That was a time frame that U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen said seemed "tight."
During the hearing, the protesters said they'd like to start at 2 p.m. and end at 7 p.m. They want to be near the Xcel at a time the delegates are likely to arrive in the evening.
The city offered to change the time from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The judge will make the final call.
After the hearing, Teresa Nelson of the ACLU said in general, protesters feel like the city has thought about them as an afterthought to security and transportation plans. She said free speech deserves more consideration.
"Essentially what they told the court was, 'We need every street around Xcel except for this very small little corner,' and we believe that's unconstitutional," said Nelson.
St. Paul Assistant Police Chief Matt Bostrom says it's not that police don't want the protesters nearby when the delegates arrive or during prime time, they just don't want a march going on at the same time.
He says protesters will still have the option to protest in a public viewing area near that same location during the evening.
"They can be almost within a couple of feet that same place at 11 o'clock that night. The idea of having a moving parade protected all the way to the Capitol while a major event is going on at the Xcel -- we've got several moving parts," said Bostrom. "So if you want to make your message and it so happens there aren't delegates there, we made the public viewing area close enough that you'll be in the same proximity."
Judge Ericksen said she'll rule on the issues early next week.
- Morning Edition, 07/10/2008, 7:24 a.m.