In comments submitted to the Tampa City Council this morning, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) harshly criticized a proposed ordinance that would drastically and unconstitutionally restrict protests at this year’s Republican National Convention.
“You would think, given all the disastrous outcomes of past conventions, that Tampa would try to do something differently,” said NLG Executive Director Heidi Boghosian. “Instead, the city is on course to recreate the worst abuses, which will not only hurt protesters and Tampa residents, but could ultimately scar the city’s reputation and drain its pocketbook.”
The proposed ordinance creates arbitrary permit requirements, establishes what it calls a “Clean Zone,” and lays out a militaristic view of crowd control. Taken together, its provisions set the stage for violent police action against peaceful protesters and bystanders.
The NLG’s comments on the ordinance state: “We hope that the City of Tampa will take seriously our belief that police overreaction and the curtailment of First Amendment activities are not needed to ensure the safety of event participants.”
Over the past decade, NLG lawsuits have successfully challenged police abuses stemming from similar ordinances, bringing hangovers to hot-tempered host cities in the form of costly litigation and multi-million dollar settlements. Most recently, the City of Chicago agreed to pay out $6.2 million to hundreds of protesters falsely arrested during a 2003 anti-Iraq War protest. Settlements from protest lawsuits since the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization conference total nearly $60 million.
The NLG will also be representing protesters at the May NATO meeting in Chicago, and the September Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both cities also recently adopted restrictive anti-protest ordinances. The 2012 Republican National Convention is scheduled to take place August 27-30 in downtown Tampa.
The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.