June 21, 2012

Will Tampa Response to RNC Protests Mirror Chicago Response to NATO Protests?

Is it just me or is it getting harder and harder to put on a big, peaceful protest here in the United States of America? The City of Tampa has been busy coming up with protest restrictions surrounding the upcoming Republican National Convention (RNC) at the end of August. I could tell from the start that they did not want ME there, because they were considering prohibiting monopods, bicycle locks, and squirt guns. The video footage that I embed in my articles requires raw video footage that I shoot using a monopod. When possible, I use my bicycle for transportation and would not consider leaving it unattended without a bicycle lock. But, it was the squirt gun ban that set me off. Although Tampa officials thought it prudent to ban handguns outside the convention hall, they were stopped in their tracks by a new state law that prohibits any such local ordinance. This new law does not stop Tampa from banning squirt guns. So the obvious, yet illogical, consequence is that someone outside the convention hall will be allowed to pack a handgun, but not a squirt gun.

With Tampa free to ban potential weapons, but not necessarily real weapons, the Gun Lobby has shown just how powerful a force it is in protecting our Second Amendment rights. Do we need a Protest Lobby to do much the same thing to protect our First Amendment rights?

Joe Iosbaker spoke in Tampa on Saturday attending the Organizers Conference for the Coalition to March on the RNC. He shared the opportunities, the successes and the difficulties his group, CANG8 (Chicago Against NATO/G-8), encountered organizing the peaceful march against the NATO meeting in Chicago in May.

I was surprised at the extent to which authorities were willing to go to limit peaceful protest. Joe spoke at length about the difficulty of obtaining their permit. He spoke about arrests made preemptively, during the week leading up to the anti-NATO march. I find it ironic that anti-war protesters would be arrested and held on terrorism charges. And I am dumbfounded at their bails. There are three people whose bail was set at $1.5 million; another at $750,000; and another at $500,000. Perhaps there is merit to these charges and bails. Since the evidence has not been made public yet, some see these arrests as an attempt to frighten people away from the protests. I hope they are wrong. Despite evidence to the contrary, mainstream media reported a small protest with remarkably well-behaved police. Other reports claim it was the largest anti-war protest in the history of Chicago and many, many groups participated in a host of activities. Police officers from around the state descended on Chicago closing down whole sections of the city. The National Lawyer's Guild says that it has received reports of more than 70 instances of police brutality during the week of the demonstrations. I hope they are wrong as well, but video footage says otherwise. Additionally, the national media did not focus on the potent symbolism of veterans throwing their medals back at NATO.

Why dredge up this recent history? As it turns out, Tampa area law enforcement traveled to Chicago to witness the police response at the Chicago NATO protests. They compared their own security plans for the RNC with that of Chicago's strategy for the NATO summit. The RNC has been designated a national special security event. Alternet reports that Tampa has received $50 million from Congress for convention security. That is a staggering amount. These funds will pay for surveillance cameras, a tank, gas masks, and other equipment as well as hotel rooms for thousands of visiting police officers who will work during the convention. Was there even a debate about militarizing the Tampa police force? Or does $50 million silence all debate?

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad some groups have decided to protest outside the official designated area. It doesn't matter where the message is delivered as long as it is heard.