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News / Politics

GOP Convention security will allow guns within outer perimeter, sets parade route for demonstrators

By TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press
Published: June 21, 2024, 1:05pm

MILWAUKEE (AP) — People will be allowed to carry guns within blocks of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee next month and protesters will be given two outdoor stages, one within sight of the convention arena, under a security plan law enforcement authorities released Friday.

Demonstrators pushed back, arguing that the plan’s protest zones are so far from the Fiserv Forum that they won’t be seen or heard.

The plan calls for two perimeters that extend for blocks around the arena. Vehicles will have to pass through checkpoints to travel between the two boundaries. Pedestrians will be allowed to move freely without being screened in that area but only convention goers will be allowed within the inner perimeter.

No weapons of any kind will be allowed within the inner perimeter but people will be able to carry guns openly or concealed elsewhere as allowed under state law. Wisconsin statutes outlaw only machine guns, short-barreled shotguns and silencers.

“It’s about behaviors,” Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman said. “So, understand that there is going to be that level of surveillance and monitoring that that’s the particular right that you like to express. Just don’t do anything that could be considered a threat or harm to the public.”

Weapons haven’t been the only question dogging city officials as they grapple with how to handle tens of thousands of people in the city’s downtown during the convention, set to run from July 15 through July 18. More than 100 organizations have applied to demonstrate at the convention so far, Nick DeSiato, Mayor Cavalier Johnson’s chief of staff, said during a news conference.

The Coalition to March on the RNC, a group of local and national organizations including the Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America, immigrant advocacy group Voces de La Frontera and the American Party of Labor, has planned a protest parade on the first day of the convention.

The coalition contends that it has been trying to obtain a permit for the parade since April 2023 but city officials still haven’t granted it. The city also has been slow-walking release of a parade route, the coalition maintains, raising fears that the city won’t allow protesters within sight of the arena.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on the coalition’s behalf on June 5 alleging the delay in releasing a route amounts to a denial in violation of the coalition’s free speech rights.

The ACLU has asked U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig to issue a temporary injunction forcing the city to designate a route within sight and hearing of the arena and immediately process the coalition’s permit applications. Ludwig has set a scheduling conference for the case on Monday.

The security plan authorities released Friday establishes a parade route just inside the far southern edge of the outer perimeter, about five blocks from the arena, with a stage for speakers within the route.

Asked if he believes the route will satisfy the coalition, DeSiato said it runs along the inner perimeter fence and that was as close as authorities could get marchers to the arena when considering exit points and emergency vehicle access. He said setting up the route as a “very complicated math problem.”

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The plan also establishes a stage for protest speakers on the northern edge of the perimeter about a block from Fiserv Forum.

DeSiato said the city will provide a sound system for speakers on both stages but each speaker will be limited to 20 minutes to ensure everyone gets a chance to talk.

ACLU attorney Tim Muth said in a statement that the organization was “surprised and disappointed” at the sheer size of the inner perimeter. The large radius makes it more important that the city allow free expression and assembly, he said, and he promised to continue the lawsuit.

“We hope for a swift ruling that will vindicate the coalition’s plan for a march that passes within sight and sound of Fiserv Forum,” he said.

Omar Flores, a coalition co-chair, told reporters at a news conference later Monday that the demonstration zones are unacceptable and accused city leaders of turning Milwaukee into a Republican playground.

He said that coalition demonstrators want to be within sight and sound of Fiserv Forum’s front doors and they’ll follow their own parade route.