Boston attacks free speech with ‘demonstration zone’

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-aguiz1Lwi5.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘Democratic presidential-ticket candidates John Kerry and John Edwards.’);

The Democratic sideshow is under way. The television networks, in toto, are showing you almost everything that’s going on. But there is one fact they are almost certainly not showing the American public.

That is the so-called “demonstration zone” adjoining the bus terminal at Boston’s Fleet Center where the convention is taking place. This is an area large enough to hold 1,000 people and is visible from the terminal where convention delegates arrive.

The zone is enclosed by two chain link fences separated by concrete highway barriers. Much of the area is beneath an abandoned elevated train right-of-way.

The outermost fence is covered with black mesh that is designed to repel liquids. There is another black net over the entire zone, and razorwire tops that. No portable toilets or furniture are contained within the zone. There is no way for protesters to hand any written materials to delegates. A federal judge heard an objection to the zone brought by protesters on July 22.

In open court, the judge declared: “I, at first, thought before taking the view [of the site] that the characterizations of the space as being like an internment camp were litigation hyperbole. I now believe that it’s an understatement. One cannot conceive of what other elements you would put in place to make a space more of an affront to the idea of free expression.”

Even so, the judge ruled against the protesters and said the facilities were justified by concerns of safety for the convention delegates.

Three times during the hearing and again in announcing his decision, the judge referred to the protesters as “defendants.” The groups have not been charged with any offense, and no evidence was presented that the plaintiffs were up to no good.

That approach is a major shift in values within our criminal justice system and the protection of free speech rights.

Michael Avery, president of the National Lawyers Guild and a law professor at Suffolk Law School in Boston, said: “The shift in First Amendment law can be appreciated by comparing the judge’s ruling on the DNC demonstration zone with the Supreme Court’s decision in 1969 in the Tinker case where it upheld the right of children to wear black arm bands to school to protest the Vietnam War. The school officials argued that the arm bands would lead to disruption of the educational process.

The Supreme Court rejected the argument, holding that “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right of freedom of expression.” In Boston, as in the Tinker case, the authorities have no evidence beyond an “undifferentiated fear” of trouble.

The demonstration zone carries the unmistakable stench of fascism. So do the presence of armed troops, military hardware and hovering helicopters. You can expect it to be even more so when the Republicans convene in New York City.

In his ruling, the judge said he found it “irretrievably sad” that circumstances required the conditions found in the zone. What is truly sad is that the judiciary has uncritically accepted the demands of the security arm of the state, and we now cannot miss the fact that the First Amendment is badly in need of life support if it is to survive in this country.

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