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Ask A Lawyer: Freedom of Speech at the RNC

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Posted on September 13, 2012

Tampa City officials and all branches of our local law enforcement worked with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to try to keep the balance between allowing folks to exercise their right of expression, with keeping convention goers safe. Tampa welcomed and managed over 100,000 guests. The convention was designated a National Special Security Event (NSSE) by the Department of Homeland Security, which means the Secret Service was actually in charge of overall security in Tampa.

The budget for the event was $50 million dollars, and while one could imagine a better use of some of the funds, other than to display ten-speed bicycles for cops, all-terrain vehicles and riot gear, it seems that all involved are calling the event a success for our city.

In addition to Mayor Buckhorn and Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor calling the event a success, protestors are also saying that despite low turnout, they were successful in getting their message out. Many, if not all of the protestors moved on to Charlotte, North Carolina for the Democratic National Convention held this week from September 4 through 6. The fundamental right to speak and be heard should be important to all of us, regardless of whether you are a registered Democrat, Independent, or self-proclaimed “Anarchist.” The largest march only had about 1,000 participants, but they hoped their voices were heard just the same as if the group had been larger. Hopefully, the protestors will similarly be permitted at the DNC in Charlotte to get their message out – no matter the content.

Interestingly, Tampa Police handed out a guide with tips for protestors during the RNC. The guide reportedly had not only official parade routes and designated protest areas, but information about where to use the restroom, get water and first aid. The week in Tampa concluded with little arrests and mostly peaceful protests. Perhaps it was because of Tropical Storm Isaac, perhaps it was because of the massive law enforcement presence, or maybe it was just the heat and humidity, but something kept large volumes of people from coming to Tampa –a ratio of 4-to-1 law enforcement to
civilians might just have done the trick.

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