Groups say GOP convention protest area could foster clashes

CLEVELAND (AP) — Organizers for two groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum are unhappy with a protest route designated for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, arguing it restricts their free-speech rights and creates the possibility of clashes.

One group is a coalition of more than two dozen left-leaning organizations planning to protest social and economic inequality. The other is an amalgam of groups hoping to celebrate the nomination of Donald Trump as the GOP candidate for president on the last day of the convention. Organizers of both events expect to draw thousands of people from across the country.

The groups, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, say the city-designated route announced Wednesday is far from where they had hoped to hold rallies and marches, infringing on their right to free speech.

The use of a designated protest route is a “recipe for disaster” because it could put groups hostile to each other in close proximity, said Ralph King, the local organizer for a coalition of groups called Citizens for Trump. He said Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams will be to blame if anyone is hurt during the convention.

A city spokesman declined to provide a response to King’s comment.

The city’s route starts on the western end of a long bridge crossing the Cuyahoga River valley into downtown Cleveland, passes at a distance by the convention site.

Williams said police will try to accommodate those wanting to protest outside the designated space surrounding the arena as the city did during anti-police protests in downtown Cleveland during the past 18 months.

“If we can direct traffic around them, we will do that,” Williams said. “It will depend on the situation.”

Larry Bresler of Organize! Ohio, the local group planning the inequality march, said the city’s plan is unacceptable and “nebulous.” He said he is conferring with the ACLU about what action can be taken.

“The restrictions in terms of where the routes will be are problematic,” Bresler said.

Citizens for Trump had asked for a permit to use Voinovich Park, next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. City officials said the park has been reserved by a Republican Party committee. King said his group might try to hold a rally there anyway and dare police to make them leave.

City officials said the route will be available to groups for two hours on July 18, the first official day of the four-day convention, and for four hours on each of the next three days. Marches must be completed within 50 minutes along a route approximately 1½ miles long.

Assistant City Law Director Rick Horvath said permits would be issued in the order applications are received. The two groups submitted theirs weeks ago. Other groups, both for and against Trump, also have applied for parade permits.

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