Jeramey Jannene

RNC, Protesters, Secret Service At Odds Over Free Speech Zone

Is Pere Marquette Park actually the Goldilocks spot?

By - May 24th, 2024 04:43 pm
Pere Marquette Park in 2020. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Pere Marquette Park in 2020. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

According to those planning to attend the Republican National Convention or those intending to protest against it, the Secret Service and City of Milwaukee have botched the location of a planned free speech zone by selecting Pere Marquette Park.

The park, located two blocks southeast of Fiserv Forum and just outside the likely border of the hard security perimeter, is to be a secured space for any registered speakers to make their case within “sight and sound” of the convention.

In a second letter to the Secret Service, Republican National Committee counsel Todd Steggerda said the location could put convention attendees at risk of violence and is an “untenable risk.”

“Rather than dissipating, the overall security climate has worsened significantly over the past month of the USSS’s inaction,” Steggerda wrote. “Your failure to act now to prevent these unnecessary and certain risks will imperil tens of thousands of Convention attendees, inexcusably forcing them into close proximity to the currently planned First Amendment Zone.”

The Milwaukee-based Coalition to March on the RNC, meanwhile, has long maintained that the location is too far away from the convention. Co-chair Omar Flores has maintained the location does not satisfy the contractual “sight and sound” requirement between the city, national committee and local host group.

“Honestly, if this is not within sight and sound, we are just going to march without a permit,” said Flores to a city committee in March about the potential parade route and speech zone.

The latest national committee letter directly mentioned the coalition as a reason for safety concerns, which drew a sharp rebuke from the coalition.

“The Coalition has stated from the beginning that we intend to run a family friendly march in July, and our points of unity include ‘Peace, justice, and equity for all.’ Meanwhile, the Republicans are cheerleaders for murderers like Kyle Rittenhouse and regularly make cartoonishly racist and reactionary statements,” said the coalition in a Friday press release. “‘Hypocritical’ and ‘disingenuous’ are not sufficient to describe what is happening here. The RNC wants to support violent, anti-democratic events like the January 6th insurrection, but trembles at the thought of thousands of people and families marching for peace, justice, and equity. This is cowardly.”

The national committee has proposed moving the zone south to Zeidler Union Square, more than doubling the distance between Fiserv Forum and the zone. Steggerda said the hard security zone, where a credential is required, could then be expanded to include Pere Marquette Park.

But the divergent opinions might be a signal that the City of Milwaukee and Secret Service have found a Goldilocks option. Neither too close, nor too far, just the right spot.

And either way, the Secret Service doesn’t appear to have any intent on changing the plan.

“The U.S. Secret Service is confident in the security plan being developed, and will continue to focus on working with our federal, state, and local partners to ensure a safe and secure event,” said chief of communications Anthony Guglielmi. “Publicly disclosing security information, as done in this letter, undermines our ability to maintain the integrity of our security plan and keep the convention, attendees, and the public safe.”

The City of Milwaukee also appears comfortable with its choice.

“There is no higher priority than the safety of everyone in and around the convention. The perimeter of the security zone is not based on arbitrary considerations, but is carefully delineated by safety and law enforcement experts that include the US Secret Service and multiple other agency partners,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s office in response.

Pere Marquette Park was previously selected as the free speech zone for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, but the event became an almost entirely virtual affair due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2024 Republican National Convention is scheduled for July 15-18 and is expected to draw 50,000 visitors to the city.

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Categories: Politics

2 thoughts on “RNC, Protesters, Secret Service At Odds Over Free Speech Zone”

  1. BigRed81 says:

    I was amoung peaceful protesters at the 2020 Republican Convention in Milwaukee. We were located in an area adjacent to the convention site.

    Repression is yet another warning sign of Facism.

    “What does assembly mean for
    the 1st Amendment?
    The right of assembly means that the government of the United States generally cannot prohibit people from gathering together and/or protesting. Some restrictions may apply to this right, but citizens are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to protest.”

  2. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    Neither the City, County, RNC, nor the Secret Service has jurisdiction over the peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights.

    A suitable ‘Free Oratory Zone’ would be a good accommodation to the space needs of speakers and audiences, but that is it’s only legitimate function.

    Outside of that zone, RNC presence has no bearing on the peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights.

    Mr. Steggerda’s imagination has excreted
    the following:
    – location could put convention attendees at risk of violence and is an “untenable risk
    – Your failure to act now to prevent these unnecessary and certain risks will imperil tens of thousands
    – forcing them into close proximity* to the currently planned First Amendment Zone.”

    *To be fair, I may be underestimating the plans or capabilities of RNC-planted troublemakers,
    and/or the swimming ability of the protesters.

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