NextCard Internet Visa - Apply Now
Home | Archives | Print Edition | Home Delivery | Advertise | Site Map | Feedback | Help
 
News
Politics
Entertainment

music, movies, art,
TV, restaurants
Business
Travel
Classifieds

jobs, homes, cars, rentals
Sports
Commentary
Shopping
Story source at L.A. Times

Back to FTAC Home

 


Judge Voids Convention Security Zone
Jurist says that large security area planned by L.A. officials for Democratic Convention is a violation of the First Amendment.

By JEFFREY L. RABIN and BETH SHUSTER, Times Staff Writers

     U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess ruled Wednesday that the large security zone planned by Los Angeles officials to encircle the Democratic National Convention at Staples Center is overly broad and unconstitutional, a violation of the 1st Amendment rights of demonstrators to be heard.
     The judge's action Wednesday is significant for the Los Angeles Police Department's convention planners, who must now accommodate the court and the protest groups who brought the lawsuit.
     It was clear from the outset of the federal court hearing that Feess was troubled by the size of the security zone wrapping the entire convention site for several blocks in most directions. At one point he said the officially designated protest zone was "the stepchild here. It is shunted off to the side. . . . I don't believe the 1st Amendment will tolerate that."
     Although a formal written order will not be issued until today, the judge said from the bench that the security zone stretching for many blocks around the convention was overly broad and cannot be justified.
     He told attorneys for the city that "there is going to have to be an accommodation to allow the plaintiffs to reach their intended audience"--the delegates and officials attending the convention.
     And Feess said his formal order will probably require the city to reconsider the application of protest groups to use Pershing Square downtown as an assembly point.

     Police Say They Will Comply
     LAPD spokesman Sgt. John Pasquariello said the department intends to abide by the ruling.
     But officials also acknowledged that it won't be easy.
     "This is extremely problematic because of the timing of the potential changes," said LAPD Cmdr. Dave Kalish. "Various agencies have been in the planning process for nearly two years and now changes will have to be made in the final minutes before the event."
     The Police Department's convention security plan now must be reexamined, LAPD officials said. Police must reconsider a range of security issues from protecting Staples Center entrances from rowdy--and potentially violent--protesters to its transportation plans for delegates and dignitaries and even its plans to deploy officers during the convention.
     Those plans already had been made but LAPD officials say they will be forced to redraw the lines for demonstrators. That work will begin today.
     To a packed and hushed courtroom, Feess made it clear he believes the zone extending from the Harbor Freeway on the west to Flower Street on the east and Olympic Boulevard on the north to Venice Boulevard on the south is not sufficiently tailored to balance the legitimate security interests of law enforcement with the constitutional rights of demonstrators.
     The decision came in a case filed on behalf of several protest groups by the American Civil Liberties Union against the city and the Los Angeles Police Department.
     ACLU attorney Daniel Tokaji hailed the Wednesday ruling. "The court followed the 1st Amendment law to the letter. . . . We expect his ruling . . . will allow our clients close enough [to the convention] to be seen and heard and not swept under the rug. You can't keep them out of sight."
     Debra Gonzales, a deputy city attorney, had no immediate comment on whether the city would appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But city officials will meet this morning to consider what to do next. Gonzales said that if the city doesn't appeal, it will "do the best we can to meet the judge's expectation to keep it [the convention] safe."
     In the lawsuit and in court, the civil liberties group sought to have part of the security zone opposite the main entrance to Staples Center opened to protesters, possibly at 11th and Figueroa Streets.
     The judge ruled without hearing any direct testimony from the LAPD or the Secret Service, which had declared that the security zone was necessary to protect President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and numerous delegates and officials. Cmdr. Thomas Lorenzen, head of the LAPD's planning for the convention, was in the courtroom, but left through a side door after the ruling.
     Feess agreed with the ACLU's arguments that court rulings require government agencies to balance security concerns with free speech rights. The judge said he is not convinced that there aren't alternatives to closing off a large area around Staples to all but delegates, media and convention workers.
     He pointedly told Gonzales he felt that the 1st Amendment concerns had been "substantially disregarded" by the city in designing the security zone. Law enforcement agencies had insisted that the secure perimeter was needed to screen for explosives and weapons and to ensure the movement of convention delegates, officials, workers and media representatives.
     Feess declined to be drawn into a discussion about specific changes to the zone, although he said relatively minor modifications could accommodate the competing interests between security and free speech. The judge said he did not have a problem with the western or southern boundaries of the zone, those most distant from Staples. And he had no quarrel with planned restrictions on vehicular traffic inside the secured area.

     'You Can't Shut Down the 1st Amendment'
     In his remarks, the judge took note of the problems that occurred during demonstrations last year in Seattle that threatened to shut down the World Trade Organization meeting. "It's not pretty and it needs to be dealt with in an appropriate way," he said. But "you can't shut down the 1st Amendment about what might happen. You can always theorize some awful scenario."
     Tokaji filed the case on behalf of the Service Employees International Union, Local 660, the D2K Convention Planning Coalition, the L.A. Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Jennafer Waggoner and Tom Hayden.
     He said the protest zone designated on the north side of Olympic Boulevard between Francisco and Georgia Streets was too far removed to be seen or heard by delegates.
     Instead, Tokaji suggested the opposite side of Figueroa from the main entrance to the arena.
     Feess also was sharply critical of the city's parade and permit procedures, saying a 40-day application period was grossly excessive. In his ruling, he intends to address that issue as well.
     The city's Recreation and Parks Department has denied the D2K group the right to use Pershing Square opposite the Biltmore Hotel as the start of its march on the first day of the convention, Aug. 14. The Mumia Abu-Jamal group also wanted to begin in Pershing Square, but has not obtained approval to do so.
     The Police Commission on Tuesday approved parade permits for the two organizations plus a third group concerned about Iraqi children, but prohibited them from entering the secure zone around Staples.
     Protest group representatives were thrilled with the judge's ruling. "We're extraordinarily pleased with this decision," said Don White, who had filed the application for the D2K group's Aug. 14 march. "The court has validated our arguments that the 1st Amendment must be exercised within a reasonable distance of these delegates."
     Margaret Prescod, another organizer of the marches and protests, called the ruling "a very warm invitation to the residents of Los Angeles, to people all around the country to join us to make sure your issues are heard."

---
     Times staff writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this story.

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

 

Festival of Health