City faces lawsuits from protesters

by Jonathan Saltzman

City faces lawsuits from protesters
Anger stems from closing Causeway St. to marchers

By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff  |  July 20, 2004

Attempting to overturn a ban on protests in front of the FleetCenter during the Democratic National Convention, a coalition of activists, union members, and two Boston city councilors sued the city in federal court yesterday, accusing it of infringing on free speech by declaring Causeway Street off-limits to marchers.

The Coalition to Protest the DNC has permission to hold a rally for a projected 2,000 people on the Boston Common at noon Sunday. But the city denied its request to march past the FleetCenter afterward, requiring the group to turn around in a designated demonstration zone about a block south of Causeway.

The coalition, which includes numerous antiwar organizations and left-leaning groups, contends in the complaint that the city is ''shunting the parade to back streets and alleys" to keep protesters away from spectators, reporters, and arriving delegates.

''The plaintiffs' proposed parade route was not selected at random," said the complaint, prepared by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. ''Rather, it was selected because of the symbolic value of the route itself, starting at the Boston Common, one of Boston's most well-known symbols of the people's power, and terminating at the doorstep of the Democratic Party."

The suit seeks a court order allowing the march on Causeway Street.

Mary Jo Harris, legal adviser to the Boston police, said that Secret Service agents and police agreed to close the street to ensure the safety of political luminaries and delegates and to enable emergency vehicles to get through. The only part of Causeway that will be open, she said, is a 20-foot-wide strip that extends from the edge of the FleetCenter out to the street and can be used by pedestrians entering the FleetCenter, Harris said.

Protesters will have sufficient access to delegates in the demonstration zone, which abuts Canal Street and is located near a new bus terminal where many conventiongoers will arrive, Harris said. The 28,000-square-foot zone will be able to hold about 4,000 protesters and will feature a stage and amplified sound system provided by the city.

''The demonstration zone we've designated brings the protesters in closer sight and sound proximity to delegates than has ever happened before at any other convention," she said.

Peter Cook, an organizer of the Boston chapter of Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, one of the groups suing the city, rejected that explanation, insisting convention organizers want to silence activists and prevent embarrassment for the presumptive presidential nominee, Senator John F. Kerry.

''There should be no restrictions on where we demonstrate," Cook said.

Councilor Felix Arroyo, who along with Councilor Chuck Turner is a plaintiff in the suit, said the FleetCenter often draws thousands of people for sporting events and concerts, but that the city has never previously closed Causeway Street.

''I don't see a problem with a march in those areas," said Arroyo, who said he did not plan to participate.
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