Saturday, August 16, 2008

Conventions, protestors and peaceful assembly

(Originally published 8/16/08)

The conventions are right around the corner, and you know what that means: Long-winded speeches with painfully predictable sound bites. Goofy pins and hats that look more at home in the Disney costume collection. The hackneyed balloon-and-confetti drop.

And ... protestors!

CBS 4 in Denver got an inside look at the holding facility city officials have prepared for use in the (unlikely? inevitable?) event the demonstrations become violent during the Democratic National Convention. Denver’s jails are already beyond capacity, and putting protestors there isn’t an option. So the facility is a city-owned warehouse that’s been – shall we say, repurposed.

The reporter described the “dozens (of) metal cages” “made out of chain link fence material and topped by rolls of barbed wire. Each of the fenced areas is about 5 yards by 5 yards and there is a lock on the door. A sign on the wall reads ‘Warning! Electric stun devices used in this facility.’”

Naturally, protestors who may end up in the lockup weren’t impressed by their potential accommodations. They’ve already calling it “Gitmo on the Platte.”

Zoe Williams of Code Pink – an organization that considers Nancy Pelosi to be too conservative – remarked that the temporary jail was “very bare bones and very reminiscent of a political prisoner camp or a concentration camp.”

Williams knows a little something about jail; CBS says she was arrested at the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004. But that woman compared this warehouse with a place like Auschwitz.

Outrage, anyone?

Then there’s this genius: “That’s how you treat cattle,” said Tent State University organizer Adam Jung. “You showed the sign where it said, ‘Stun gun in use,’ and you just change the word ‘gun’ for ‘bolt’ and it’s a meat processing plant.”

And they wonder why the majority of Americans can’t take them seriously.

But Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper still felt the need to explain “the purpose of the holding facility” through “community outreach.”

It could have been the shortest press release ever: “The purpose of the facility is to detain protestors who choose not to adhere to the rule of law in Denver.”

But Hickenlooper said that the “temporary arrestee processing center” (as the city calls it) is meant to provide “additional processing capability to reduce the time that arrestees will have to wait to be processed, post bond and/or appear in court.”
Denver Sheriff’s Department officials added that the facility “will not be used for long-term detention” and that people will only be there for “the few hours it requires for processing.”

Hickenlooper assures protestors that the city “does not anticipate the need for widespread arrests during the Convention” but “it is obligated to plan and prepare for that possibility given the volume of people anticipated to attend and the intention of some organizations to deliberately get arrested.

“To this end, the temporary arrest processing center will be operational as needed.”

So there’s a simple solution for the protestors who don’t care for Denver’s digs. To paraphrase the First Amendment: Peaceable assembly.

And that should be easy. After all, they are all about peace, right?

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