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Networks image Panel OKs three convention protest marches

July 19, 2000
Web posted at: 1:29 p.m. EDT (1729 GMT) WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times) -- The Los Angeles Police Commission approved permits Tuesday for three protest marches before and during the Democratic National Convention, but required the demonstrations to end outside a large security zone around Staples Center.

The commission's 4-0 approval of the permits occurred little more than 24 hours before a federal judge today hears a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of protest groups. The organizations argue that restrictions imposed by the city on access to the convention area violate their 1st Amendment rights to free speech.

The groups seek an injunction to bar the city and police from restricting their access to convention delegates and officials inside the security zone.

With the hearing overshadowing their deliberations, the police commissioners struggled for nearly two hours with the issue before agreeing on conditions to attach to the parade permits. Rather than ending inside the security zone as demonstrators wanted, the commission agreed that the three marches must end outside the zone.

The security perimeter will extend from the Harbor Freeway on the west to Flower Street on the east, and from Olympic Boulevard on the north to Venice Boulevard on the south.

Last-minute conditions recommended by the Los Angeles Police Department sparked sharp criticism from protest leaders, particularly those representing the D2K Convention Planning Coalition, who bitterly complained about the Los Angeles Police Department's proposal that they not be allowed to use a sound system on their march through downtown Los Angeles.

Leone Hankey, representing the D2K group, said the LAPD's opposition to a sound system amounted to "discriminatory enforcement" that violated the 1st Amendment.

After give-and-take between commissioners and the city's lawyer on the case, the panel rejected the LAPD's proposed ban on use of a sound system. The D2K group's march for "Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed" is scheduled for the convention's opening day, Aug. 14.

Also Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to approve spending nearly $1.1 million in public funds to pay Sheriff's Department overtime costs for convention security.

Supervisors Gloria Molina, Zev Yaroslavsky and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, all Democrats, approved the spending, saying it is needed to provide safety and security during the convention. Indeed, Molina said security concerns have intensified since the initial planning for the event.

But Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe, both Republicans, objected to the county's providing taxpayer assistance, like the city of Los Angeles, for costs associated with the political convention. Both suggested that the city or the convention committee be charged for the county's added costs.

The money would be spent primarily to pay for sheriff's deputies to ride aboard 300 buses that will be used to transport delegates and dignitaries from hotels across the area to the convention. In addition, the Sheriff's Department will provide a booking team to assist the LAPD should there be mass arrests of demonstrators. The sheriff would also keep tactical response teams on standby should they be needed to assist the LAPD.

But the supervisors balked at making a $500,000 contribution to the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau to offset expenses.

The supervisors heard law enforcement officials report on the potential for difficulties during the convention. "The term peaceful protest is a true oxymoron when it comes to some activists targeting the DNC," said Undersheriff Bill Stonich.

Cmdr. Thomas Lorenzen, head of convention planning for the LAPD, said the assistance of about 400 Sheriff's Department personnel is needed. "The truth of the matter is we are redistributing our deployment from throughout the city," he said. "We are absolutely stretched thin, very thin."

Margaret Prescod, representing the D2K group, rejected as inaccurate the characterization of demonstrators by law enforcement officials. "We have said from the very start that the intentions of our protests are not violent. We don't intend to harm anyone, to harm delegates."

Prescod said the coalition does not intend to shut down the convention and wants to march legally to draw attention to their issues.

At the LAPD's Parker Center headquarters, Preston Wood, an organizer of the march for death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal planned for Sunday, Aug. 13, said Mayor Richard Riordan and LAPD officials "should stop creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear" about what is going to take place during the convention. He said his coalition plans "an orderly and peaceful protest."

Wood objected strenuously to last-minute conditions being recommended by the LAPD. However, like other protest group representatives, he refused to negotiate with the commission on terms of the permits.

The Abu-Jamal group had wanted to begin its protest at Pershing Square, but must receive approval from the city's Department of Recreation and Parks to use the plaza opposite the Biltmore Hotel. If that approval is not granted, the commission directed that the marchers assemble on Hill Street between 5th and 6th streets. The protesters are to end their demonstration at Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa Street.

Police Chief Bernard C. Parks said the police and march organizers need to work on a plan for disbanding the demonstrations. "We're opposed to leaving it wide open," he said. Parks said the department does not want the demonstrators interfering with the security zone, which he said will be surrounded by a chain-link fence covering about 10 square blocks.

Struggling to find a compromise, Commission President Gerald L. Chaleff specified that the three protest groups must notify the LAPD before Aug. 4 about their intended route and disbanding point. If the LAPD rejects the plans, the commission will review the matter Aug. 8.

Under the permit, the D2K group march will be allowed to start on Hill Street between 5th and 6th streets and be required to end at 11th and Flower streets, outside the security zone.

A third organization--the Save the Iraqi Children Coalition--received a permit to march Aug. 15 beginning at the same location on Hill Street, if Pershing Square is not available, and continuing through downtown to the edge of the secure zone at Olympic and Figueroa.

Although the protest group representatives expressed displeasure with the conditions, Deputy City Atty. Debra Gonzales was pleased with the result.

Gonzales said that because of the commission's actions, the city is in a much better position going into federal court. "They did their best to devise conditions on the permits that were reasonable," she said.


Wednesday, July 19, 2000



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