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Friday, August 10, 2012 - Page updated at 02:30 p.m.
Charlotte, Tampa brace for convention protests
By KIM SEVERSON
The New York Times
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The variety of demonstrators planning to invade Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention is wide and deep.
When the party gathers Sept. 3, anarchists bent on bringing down government and radical evangelical groups bearing down on gays and abortion doctors will be on hand.
In between, others will protest a range of issues that includes war, increases in college costs, immigration reform, labor practices, anti-gay laws, the nation's policies on marijuana and the jailing of a soldier accused of leaking classified material.
There will be the "UndocuBus," filled with illegal immigrants, and the Values Bus, sponsored by the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation.
Even with 6,000 delegates and an estimated 30,000 more associated visitors, it will not be the largest gathering ever in the city of 760,000, but it promises to be the most difficult to manage.
"We have not seen anything like this, no," said Carol Jennings, the city's liaison to the convention. In true Southern fashion, she added, "We welcome all our visitors."
But it won't be all barbecue and bourbon. The city will spend $50 million in federal money on security, the same amount the Republicans gathering in Tampa, Fla., have received. It will be used to hire up to 3,400 officers from outside departments, build about five miles of 9-foot fencing and pay for, among other things, steel barriers strong enough to stop a 15,000-pound vehicle traveling 30 mph.
The city is also relying on a recent law that gives its manager the power to declare a large-scale gathering an "extraordinary event." When that happens, a section of the city is marked off and the police have wide powers to search and possibly arrest people in that zone who carry items capable of hiding weapons or inflicting injury.
On the long list are backpacks, hammers, coolers, chains, glass bottles and water guns known as Super Soakers. Face-concealing scarves could also be tagged.
Since the law was put into place in January, the city has used it a few times, including the annual shareholders' meetings for Duke Energy and Bank of America.
The city and the Secret Service on Wednesday announced the perimeters of the security zone, which covers about 60 percent of the city's Uptown commercial district and covers the special areas the city has set aside for protesters.
Tampa has a version of an event zone, and both cities have dealt with trying to prevent concealed weapons inside them despite state laws that allow people to carry permitted weapons. Both cities also have set up special protest and parade areas, even providing a stage and microphones.
In both cities, people organizing protests have criticized the areas as being too far from the action, too restrictive and not particularly comfortable or conducive for expressing opinion to the people attending the convention.
Michael Zytkow of Occupy Charlotte said the security zone covers "every part of Uptown that anyone would normally walk through." And the area set aside for the so-called free-speech zone is so remote "we're calling it a parking-lot tour," he added.
Having free-speech zones implies the rest of the city is not, critics say. Issuing permits for people to protest and using special-event zones as a regular part of convention business concern some who believe such controls border on selective oppression of free speech.
"The biggest problem is the use of seemingly neutral laws to control protests to restrict certain kind of protests or keep inconvenient protests out of the public eye," said Gabe Rottman, a policy adviser and legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Unlike Tampa, two major events in Charlotte — a kickoff festival and the final speech by Obama at the Bank of America Stadium — will be open to the public.
By many accounts, the crowds could be greater in Charlotte than in Tampa, too. For one thing, Charlotte will have a sitting president. And it is the second-largest banking city in the nation, home to Bank of America and the East Coast division of Wells Fargo, a designation that is driving at least 80 national groups organized loosely as the Coalition to March on Wall Street South, to show up for a Sept. 2 protest.
Conservative Christians, meanwhile are planning a conference, Charlotte714. An estimated 40 churches will gather in the 20,000-seat Verizon Wireless Amphitheater the night before the convention for a church service.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
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