State tramples First Amendment, protesters win in court

Shut down Trump and the RNC!

By Martha Grevatt
June 28, 2016

RNC banner

The Republican National Convention, to take place in Cleveland July 18-22, will be targeted by a full week of protests. This includes a march the Sunday before the convention to “Shut down Trump and the RNC.” Organizers of that march have publicized a full “calendar of resistance” on the International Action Center web site and are in solidarity with any group fighting for the right to protest.

The city of Cleveland has shown no restraint in genuflecting before the Republican Party, and in the process trampling the First Amendment rights of protesters. On June 23 U.S. District Judge James Gwin ruled that the city’s unreasonable restrictions on demonstrations were unconstitutional.

The so-called event zone, which was to be off-limits to protesters, was deemed “unduly large.” The RNC is to take place at the Quicken Loans Arena, which is east of the Cuyahoga River, which divides Cleveland’s east and west sides. The restricted zone extended to areas west of the river and — although no floating protests have been announced — to a stretch of the river itself. The zone also extended into Lake Erie, some distance north of the arena.

The allowed “parade route” took a sharp detour around the arena and confined marchers to areas of limited visibility. Free speech was further constricted by only allowing rallies in designated parks and during daylight hours — the major events of the RNC are during the evening — and imposing a ban on elevated platforms and, to quote their document, “soapboxes.”

In a victory for the progressive movement, which has made clear its determination to have a forceful and visible presence throughout the RNC, all these restrictions were overturned. Two days later, after Judge Gwin ordered the case into mediation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the city reached a compromise agreement.

The agreement shrinks the 3.5-square-mile event zone considerably and liberalizes all the other restrictions. “Organize Ohio,” a plaintiff in the suit, can begin its “End Poverty Now” march on the east side in the Black community. This route, originally denied a permit, was chosen to highlight the 50th anniversary of the Hough Rebellion, an uprising of the city’s African-American community that lasted for four days. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless won the unrestricted right of homeless residents to be inside the security zone, where many food and shelter resources are located. The Coalition to Stop Trump and March on the RNC is still fighting for a permit to march on Monday, July 18, the day the convention opens.

State harasses activists

While the city’s protest restrictions have been liberalized, protest suppression has taken another form: intrusive and intimidating visits by the FBI, Homeland Security, the Secret Service and Cleveland cops. At least a dozen Cleveland activists report that they or their families have gotten a knock on the door.

According to Cleveland NAACP President Michael Nelson, police questioned the parents of a young woman who was arrested last year. She had been protesting the acquittal of two officers involved in firing 137 bullets into a stopped car, killing unarmed Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. The police pressed her parents for information about “anybody planning violence” during the RNC.

Members of Cleveland “Food Not Bombs” have been visited by police and FBI agents working in tandem. The group is not planning to protest but has applied for permits to feed demonstrators, along with local residents in need of food, inside the event zone. “I personally believe that this is an attempt to intimidate,” said FNB member Maggie Rice.

State intimidation will continue throughout the RNC. Through a $50 million Homeland Security grant, Cleveland police have acquired riot gear, retractable steel batons, fencing to pen in protesters, plastic cuffs and Long Range Acoustic Devices, which disperse crowds by emitting a loud, painful noise.

The city also purchased state-of-the-art surveillance tools, including cameras, laptops, Pointer Illuminator Aiming Lasers and Stingray cell phone tracking devices. After the RNC, the African-American community will have even more reason to fear the cops, who get to keep their new instruments of terror.

In response, the week of protests will be a statement not only against the racism of Donald Trump and the RNC, but against the repressive capitalist state. The National Lawyers Guild and Rust Belt Medics have pledged to assist with any situations that may arise.

Shut down Trump and the RNC!

The ACLU also represented “Citizens for Trump,” winning for them a rally permit inside the original event zone. Many who will protest argue that there should be no linking of the freedom to protest with any so-called “rights” of the neofascist Trump mob. Susan Schnur, a Cleveland organizer of “Shut Down Trump” and the RNC march and rally, stated: “Free speech as defined by well-meaning groups such as the ACLU includes the right to preach hate and brutality toward immigrants, Muslims and Black and Brown people. We disagree. Hate-mongers are the backbone of the Trump campaign and should not have the right to preach violence and bigotry.”

The “Shut Down Trump” march will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 17 — the night before the RNC opens — and is intended to strike a militant political tone for the next four days of resistance. Make your plans now! Come to Cleveland to say, unequivocally, “Shut down Trump and the RNC!” For more information and to endorse, visit