City settles lawsuit over rush-hour convention protest ban

AP News
|
Posted: Jul 01, 2016 3:32 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia has lifted a blanket ban on rush-hour protests in its central business district during the Democratic National Convention and has agreed to give a demonstration permit to an anti-poverty group.

The city previously said it wouldn't grant permits during rush hour in the district during the convention that starts July 25. Officials said Friday they won't deny permits for that sole reason.

The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign had sued over being denied a permit to march on the convention's opening day, from City Hall in downtown Philadelphia to the convention site 4 miles away.

A city spokeswoman said the suit was settled after the march starting time was moved up to 2 p.m. But the group's organizer and the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on the group's behalf, disputed that claim. Set up will begin at 2 p.m. with the march beginning an hour later, they said.

The city and the group also disagree over what start time was initially requested for the march. Regardless, organizers say it will begin at 3 p.m.

"Freedom of speech is not up for negotiation," lead organizer Cheri Honkala said Friday. "I think (city officials) didn't believe us when we said we will not change (a 3 p.m. march). And we will not change that."

The granted permit allows the group of about 500 protesters to demonstrate between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. July 25. Honkala said the group marched the same route during the 2000 Republican National Convention to send its message that poverty is a crucial issue in Philadelphia.

Mary Catherine Roper, the ACLU's deputy legal director in Pennsylvania, said while the group may march during what the city understands as rush hour, temporarily diverted traffic is nothing new in Philadelphia.

"We seem to manage and get through the day with some traffic disruption all of the time," she said.

Cleveland's response to demonstration and protest plans during the Republican National Convention also prompted a lawsuit. In that case, a judge found the city's rules governing protests and marches infringed on rights of free expression. The city has since relaxed the rules, extended march and rally routes and shrunk a designated "event zone" where certain everyday items will be prohibited.

As of Friday, Philadelphia had approved 10 permits, many for supporters of Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders. A large portion of the nearly 30 permit applications the city received were still pending.

The convention is expected to bring tens of thousands of protesters to the city.

Though the groups are expected to descend upon the most congested streets of Philadelphia's Center City, the city does not currently have any long-term street closures planned for the area. But there will be some rolling closures throughout the week "due to dignitary movements and demonstrations," said Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney.