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Ohio ACLU Sues Cleveland Over Republican Convention Free Speech Restrictions

The Ohio ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a diverse group of plaintiffs seeking free speech and some sense of normalcy for residents nearby the upcoming Republican National Convention next month, which you can read below.

Political speech is protected by the First Amendment, as is the right to free assembly, but Cleveland officials signaled that they’ll only issue 18 permits of 50 minute duration each to march on one single parade route near a national party’s convention.

Cleveland also declared a 3.3 square mile area off limits for free speech during the Republican National Convention set for next July in Quicken Loans Arena.

“The restrictions on speech put in place by the city of Cleveland are arbitrary, unnecessary, and unjustifiable,” said Christine Link, executive director for the ACLU of Ohio. “The current rules for demonstrations at the RNC are actively blocking groups from all sides of the political spectrum from participating in their government. City officials have refused to make proper accommodations to protect free speech, so we are asking the courts to step in now.”

Some are comparing it to the size of the “green zone” in Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, anticipating a massive law enforcement presence akin to that of a military camp, which will swallow most of the downtown Cleveland area.

Citizens for Trump, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Organize Ohio all joined forces to act as plaintiffs seeking relief. Some plaintiffs are concerned that their protest permit applications have been stalled without being approved or denied.

Homeless advocates are concerned about the criminalizing of up to 100 residents in possession of normal household items like canned goods and glass bottles, as Cleveland.com reports:

Within the streets and sidewalks of the event zone, the city has banned a variety of legal weapons, such as BB guns, nunchucks, swords, as well as ordinary items including umbrellas with metal tips, squirt guns, ropes, glass bottles, large backpacks and bags, coolers, tents, sleeping bags and canned goods. [Which can be seen in full below]

The ACLU has assisted with lawsuits against cities hosting political conventions in the past over protest rules. In 2008, the ACLU of Minnesota and the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War sued St. Paul, Minnesota, the host of that year’s GOP convention, challenging the city’s guidelines for protests after being denied a requested protest route.

“The size of the event zone and absurdly broad list of contraband items infringe on the movement and privacy of everyone living or working in downtown Cleveland,” Link said. “These rules criminalize everyone from people who are homeless to grocery shoppers for carrying everyday items. They also provide opportunities for public speech that are completely inadequate for the size and importance of this event.”

Cleveland officials did not try to institute a “no-protest” zone specifically outside of the Quicken Loans Arena’s security perimeter for the Republican National Convention.

But it’s doubtless that their heavy handed attempt at wholesale repression of the First Amendment and an unconstitutionally broad dictate restricting the possession of household items which local residents certainly own, seems doomed to fail in the light of  the ACLU’s legal resistance.

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