The courtroom of U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger was packed on July 29 for the all-day trial over whether the Democratic National Convention security arrangements being planned by the city and the Secret Service pass the Constitutional smell test. The lawsuit was originally filed in May by the ACLU on behalf of numerous groups that wish to hold events and demonstrations during convention week, such as Recreate 68 and Escuela Tlatelolco.
At issue are a variety of complaints the ACLU has with the designated parade route for marches, the proposed “public viewing area” adjacent to the Pepsi Center, and several parade permits the city has denied. In the courtroom, discussion ranged from biochemical weapons to the precise location of air conditioners attached to the media tents. Krieger is expected to give her ruling in a few days.
Given that this reporter fell asleep briefly around the fifth hour of testimony, this blog post will leave out the precise details of the trial in favor of some highlights after the jump. --Jared Jacang Maher
-- Recreate 68 organizer and spokesman Mark Cohen asserted that R-68 has made it clear from the beginning that they are committed to non-violent civil disobedience and any perception to the contrary is the result of misinformation from and misquotes by the press.
-- The defense presented Cohen with an e-booklet pulled from the R-68 website called “Bodyhammer: Tactics and Self-defense for the Modern Protester” that explains how to create shields, improvised body armor and special techniques for charging police lines. Cohen testified that the website is run by R-68 members Glenn Spagnuolo and Tryworks blogger Benjamin Whitmer.
--The protest area will be located in the southeast corner of Lot A, approximately 733 feet from the Pepsi Center. While the side facing Auraria Parkway will be open, three of the sides will be lined with two sets of tall metal fences spaced apart from each other to prevent people from attempting to jump the barricade and to function as a chute for overflow in case a “crush” situation occurs, testified Denver Deputy Police Chief Michael Battista. There will also be three lines of staggered concrete "jersey" barrier stretched roughly across the center of the zone to prevent mass crowd movement.
-- The 47,000 square foot public demonstration zone proposed by the city is not only “more than two football fields” away from the entrance to the Pepsi Center, Cohen said, but it will also be behind a huge media tent and encased in two sets of metal fences. This complete disassociation will result in protesters who look more like prisoners in a cage than individuals speaking out against a specific entity or symbol. The protesters will refuse to go inside the demonstration zone as it is proposed, Cohen added.
--JoJo Pease of Tent State University took the stand to say she is also helping organize a truckers group called American Driver, which wants to drive semis in a parade to the Pepsi Center to protest high fuel costs. The defense questioned whether a semi could be used to hide a bomb. Pease said they would be willing to submit the vehicles to any screening by security beforehand.
--The city has offered a stage and sound system that demonstrator can use inside of the protest area. Neither the city nor the police will be organizing any method to allocate who gets to speak when. Officials are also providing an area inside the convention area where literature provided by groups will be made availible to delegates.
-- Secret Service special agent Steven Huges estimated that 26,000 people will be inside the Pepsi Center, while as many as 14,000 more will be on the grounds. A security perimeter consisting of a fence will be erected around the grounds roughly along Speer and Auraria boulevards on Friday, August 22. Secret Service will then completely empty the grounds and conduct a full sweep for explosives that could take up to ten hours.
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-- The designated parade route ends officially at Speer and Larimer, but will detour south through the Auraria Campus and hook west toward the demonstration area -- a kind of back door onto the grounds. ACLU attorneys questioned why the route couldn’t travel through the more high-profile intersection of Speer and Auraria. Both Battista and Huges claimed that the streets were required for delegate transportation and possible emergency access and/or evacuation, should the need arise.
--Battista testified that an online pamphlet by anarchist group Unconventional Action calling supporters to “Disrupt the DNC” was one of many “publicly stated threats” he has taken into consideration when drafting security plans. Battista noted the possibility of protesters using lockdown tactics such as a “Sleeping Dragon” or “Tripods” to block roads and entryways.
--On cross-examination, Battista admitted that he is not aware of such lockdown tactics ever being used at past RNCs or DNCs, nor does he know of any example of occurrences that have happened in Denver.