By Dustin Slaughter
A coalition of groups planning protests during the Democratic National Convention next month put the city on notice this morning: Marches and rallies will move forward, with or without the permission of authorities.
Speakers made their feelings on the matters of perceived permit delays and rejections, rush hour protest restrictions, and the prospect of mass arrests during the Democratic National Convention abundantly clear outside the Office of Special Events.
All demanded that the city respect their Constitutional right to protest. Many were skeptical.
“We do not trust the mayor and the city,” said Erica Mines of the Philadelphia Coalition for REAL Justice, who cited bans on rush-hour marches and the potential use of jails including the Detention Center, Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, and Riverside Correctional Facility, as reasons for that distrust. The city, after backing off of reopening Holmesburg prison, recently indicated that these facilities will be used instead should mass arrests occur.
A recurring criticism throughout the press conference also focused on the Kenney administration’s continuing support for stop-and-frisk, a policy that critics say ‘militarizes’ low-income and minority neighborhoods and one that Kenney campaigned heavily to end during his run for Mayor. The administration has argued that they are working to make pedestrian stops more Constitutionally-friendly after a damning report this year found these stops continue to predominantly violate the rights of African American males.
Scott Williams, who is helping to organize the ‘Shut Down the DNC’ march scheduled for July 26th, said that he and others believe the delays in permit processing are politically motivated, and accused officials of permitting demonstrations that only fit within the confines of mainstream politics.
Williams’ group submitted their application on June 13th.
He said that numerous groups are “calling [Kenney’s] bluff,” referring to the Mayor’s recent statement that demonstrators without permits would “probably not” be arrested. Williams added that “Kenney and the Democratic Party are very worried about what it would look like for hundreds of people to get arrested on the streets of Philadelphia.”
Kenney spokesperson Lauren Hitt told the Declaration this morning that there was nothing nefarious about the delays.
“All of the groups represented at [this morning’s] press conference submitted permit requests within the last two weeks. Processing takes time because if demonstrators have requested a space that isn’t available, we don’t just reject it. We work to find an alternative that meets their needs. The City has responded to the majority of permit requests to date.”
Hitt reiterated that no permits will be issued for rush hour marches (7 AM-9AM and 3PM-6PM), including for Broad Street.
There are at least three groups, however – including those present at Tuesday’s press conference – that have applied for permits in Center City during rush hour, according to the city’s current list. These groups would presumably be asked to change their plans or not receive a permit at all under the current policy.
One of those groups, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, which had their permit request to march down Broad Street to the Wells Fargo Center during rush hour rejected, is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania ACLU. The city told the group in a rejection letter that the march would “substantially…interfer[e] with traffic in the area” and that it would conflict with a previously-scheduled demonstration.
According to the city’s permit application list however, there are no other Broad Street marches planned for that time.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue, in part, that the city cannot restrict the time, place, and manner of political protests while allowing apolitical events currently scheduled that would similarly disrupt traffic and other activity.
Jody Dodd of Up Against the Law, a grassroots legal collective, urged the city “to do the right thing” by not arresting protesters. “It would be the smartest move you could make.”
She also warned that the group “will be ready for you.”
“We will document what you’re doing in the streets. And we have connected with lawyers who are ready to represent.”
One of those lawyers, civil rights attorney Lawrence Krasner, put the planned demonstrations into some historical context, citing the women’s suffrage movement and civil rights era as examples of the importance street protests have had throughout American history. He ended by scolding city officials for trying to restrict First Amendment-protected activity.
“You are ungrateful to your traditions, city of Philadelphia…if you don’t admit whose shoulders you’re standing on.”
In the interest of full disclosure, Dustin Slaughter is employed at Mr. Krasner’s firm.
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