Q&A: Why groups are suing Cleveland over RNC protest rules

CLEVELAND (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has sued Cleveland on behalf of a homeless organization and two groups planning marches during next month’s Republican National Convention, alleging the city’s rules for protests violate free speech rights. For example, the lawsuit says a large event zone of 3.3-square miles is “absurd” and other city rules also place a burden on anyone who lives and works in downtown Cleveland.

Some questions and answers about the lawsuit and its claims:


Q: Who are the plaintiffs?

A: The plaintiffs include an affiliation of groups lending truth to the adage that politics makes strange bedfellows. They include Citizens For Trump, which plans to celebrate the candidacy of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump; Organize! Ohio, which plans to protest economic and social inequality in the U.S.; and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group.


Q: What are their biggest complaints?

A: Citizens For Trump and Organize! Ohio submitted applications weeks ago seeking permits to hold their events and marches July 18, the first day of the four-day convention at Quicken Loans Arena. Representatives were told no permits would be approved until the U.S. Secret Service finalized its security plan two days before the start of the convention. When the city issued its permit regulations last month, the groups said the rules were too restrictive and would impede them from delivering their messages.


Q: What kind of restrictions did the city impose?

A: The regulations designate a 1.5-mile route for marches that crosses a long bridge spanning the Cuyahoga River and ends near a freeway exit a long distance from the arena. The city also restricted when marches could be held and required them to be completed within 50 minutes.


Q: Why is the homeless group suing the city?

A: The lawsuit claims most of Cleveland’s downtown homeless live in shelters and encampments within the event zone but not close to Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland’s regulations include a long list of items that people are not allowed to have within the zone, including rope, string, tape, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and coolers.


Q: What else is prohibited by Cleveland?

A: The list includes drones, gas masks, lasers, sledgehammers, containers of bodily fluids, bottles, cans, thermoses, ladders, grappling hooks, canned goods and tennis balls. Squirt guns and pellet guns are prohibited, but not actual firearms. Ohio is an open carry gun state, so protesters licensed to carry firearms are allowed to be in the event zone with a holstered gun.


Q: Why tennis balls?

A: Police are worried that protesters might try to spook horses by throwing tennis balls at them. The lawsuit points out there are tennis courts at Cleveland State University, which is in the event zone.


Q: What happens next?

A: The lawsuit will likely be fast-tracked in federal court given the short time frame before the start of the convention. The ACLU asked the judge to force the city to amend its regulations and issue the two groups permits to hold their previously planned events.


Q: What was Cleveland’s response?

A: The city declined to comment.

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