Jeramey Jannene

ACLU, Coalition Sue City Over RNC Protest Rules

Group promises to march right to Fiserv Forum, alleges city is denying its 1st Amendment rights.

By - Jun 6th, 2024 03:56 pm
Omar Flores speaks at a June 6, 2024 press conference. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Omar Flores speaks at a June 6, 2024 press conference. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Coalition to March on the RNC, a group of 71 organizations focused on opposing the Republican Party’s political agenda, is suing the City of Milwaukee over allegations that the city’s restrictions around demonstrations violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“We have been clear from the beginning that we will march within sight and sound of the Fiserv Forum,” said coalition co-chair Omar Flores. “As it is our constitutional right to assemble, speak and petition.”

Speaking at a press conference Thursday afternoon in front of the U.S. Federal Courthouse, Flores said the coalition has worked in good faith to secure permits, but the city has restricted its access and stifled its rights.

Flores said the organizers have sought for more than a year to get an approved protest route via a city permit. “We have not heard anything from the city about this route,” said Flores while another organizer held up a route that weaves through Downtown. “What the city has tried to do is get us to agree to something that is less than the full extent of our First Amendment rights.”

It now intends to march that route whether it is approved or not. Flores said he hopes police do not interfere, though a portion of the route goes through what is expected to be a credentialed, airport-like security zone secured with fencing.

The federal lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin on behalf of the coalition. It seeks an injunction that would prevent the city’s permitting rules from being in effect and granting the coalition the right to march its route.

Flores said the lawsuit targets the city instead of the Republican National Convention. “The City is the one that allowed of this to happen,” said Flores. He previously appeared on behalf of the coalition before the Common Council’s Public Works Committee arguing that the city is being too restrictive in its permitting.

On Thursday, he said the coalition is disappointed in what it says is a lack of communication. “There is no transparency to what the process is here,” said Flores. “We feel that they need to do their job and listen to the people of the city.”

“The past two years has been about us trying to engage with the city in good faith about doing this the proper way,” he said. But, Flores said, the city moved the goal posts when it adopted a revised permitting ordinance that established restrictions around the security zone.

He said many of the organizers have extensive experience protesting peacefully in tense situations. The situations, said Flores citing Kenosha in 2020, only turned chaotic or violent when police officers moved on protesters. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid by getting this permit,” said Flores. “There is no opportunity through the city to play by the rules.”

The city, in a statement from Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s communications director Jeff Fleming, says it is abiding by the rules and will contest the lawsuit.

“The City of Milwaukee is fully prepared to answer the court filings. We have consistently operated in good faith with all the different groups and individuals who are concerned about the demonstration plans. In fact, we have had open discussions and meetings with the litigants in this matter including discussions just hours before the lawsuit was filed,” said Fleming. “Milwaukee takes seriously its responsibility to provide an opportunity for people to express their opinions. The city is also focused on safety for all the people in and around the upcoming convention. We are working to maximize both those priorities.”

But Flores said the city is deliberately delaying releasing the parade route to shorten time for a lawsuit. “This is a pattern we see every four years,” said Flores of other conventions.

He said it even happened in Milwaukee in 2020 during the largely virtual Democratic National Convention. “The march was completely family friendly. We marched without a permit and everything went okay.”

The Republican National Committee has opposed the city’s intent to use Pere Marquette Park as a free speech zone, saying it is a safety risk given its location next to a likely security checkpoint to access Fiserv Forum. The national committee singled out the coalition as a risk.

“What the Republicans have put out is that we are seeking to start violence… it’s completely unwarranted,” said Flores. He said the group led a march in 2023 during the Republican presidential primary without issue.

Additionally, Flores said the group has no intention of signing up for a time slot at Pere Marquette Park because it views the space as too far from Fiserv Forum.

The coalition, said the organization, has agreed on five “points of unity”: standing with Palestine, fighting against the Republicans’ “racist and reactionary agenda,” defending immigrant rights, supporting women’s and LGBTQ reproductive rights and “peace and justice and equity for all.”

“We want to be as big tent as possible for anyone that opposes the Republican’s agenda,” he said. All of the organizers are volunteers said Flores. He said the coalition expects to see several thousand participants in its march on the first day of the convention, July 15.

At a Secret Service press conference Thursday morning, Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle said a detailed security perimeter would be released in approximately two weeks. Fleming said the city would release its decision for a permitted parade route and free speech zone at the same time or shortly thereafter. The Republican National Committee has maintained its opposition to the use of Pere Marquette Park.

A special meeting of the Common Council’s Public Safety & Health Committee is scheduled for Friday to consider changes to the city ordinance that could prohibit guns and other weapons in the soft security zone around the credentialed area.

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Categories: Politics

2 thoughts on “ACLU, Coalition Sue City Over RNC Protest Rules”

  1. Counselor of Peace Joel Paplham says:

    Anything that has the reference of ” MARCH ON ” in it name is not a family’s friendly organization or business or method to express one First Amendment rights.

  2. Counselor of Peace Joel Paplham says:

    ACLU was years ago had a good reputation for helping honest people in need of legal assistance. Now the organization is help any radicalized group throw shade at American institutions.
    I hope the ACLU drops it case against Milwaukee.
    As a resident of Near Westside of Milwaukee, I don’t want to read the Milwaukee Police were push by radicalized Street thugs to maintain law and order to areas In my city allowing RNCt to have a peaceful convention.

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