Politics aside, protestors are going to be a big issue when the Republican National Convention comes to Tampa later this year. As many as 15,000 are expected and balancing their free speech rights with public safety at the convention is proving to be a workable, but complex task.
Last Thursday, the Tampa City Council approved an “Event Zone” ordinance that will, amongst other things, give police the tools to ensure the safety and security of demonstrators at the RNC.
This means there will be a designated protest area near the Tampa Bay Times Forum open 24 hours a day where demonstrators can exercise their free speech rights.
Naturally, civil liberty leaders in Tampa aren’t too thrilled about this prospect.
“If I want to march down a sidewalk or in a public park, either by myself or with 500 of my closest friends, I need not ask permission for this, nor will I ever,” Amos Myers of the Free Speech Project said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times last week.
There are laws that state protesters must be allowed close enough to be seen and heard by conventioneers, but this is all the more complicated by the fact that the city is required by contract to guarantee parking for 300 charter buses as close as possible to the Times Forum. The city’s contract with the convention also gives the convention first dibs on the use of nine parks, including Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Lykes Gaslight Square Park in Downtown Tampa.
The approved ordinance will also ban weapons (excluding concealed weapons with permits)in the Event Zone, which covers Downtown Tampa north to Interstate 275 and Interstate 4, Ybor City, the northern part of Harbour Island and an area across the Hillsborough River that includes the University of Tampa.
In the same meeting last week, the Tampa City Council also approved the spending of $518,460 for 1,400 gas masks and accessories; $225,063 for 225 tactical communications headsets, plus accessories and three days of training; and $85,580 for 17,400 all-cotton T-shirts for the officers working the Republican National Convention.