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Divided city council OK’s RNC event zone
Posted May 3, 2012 by Kevin Wiatrowski
Updated May 3, 2012 at 01:34 PM
A divided Tampa City Council gave its first approval to Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s proposed “event zone” for the Republican National Convention.
Council members voted 5-2 in favor of the package of temporary measures aimed keeping protesters and other groups that will take to the city’s streets during the convention.
Council members Yvonne Capin and Mary Mulhern said opposed the ordinance because the event zone footprint remains too large.
“I didn’t see where that was being considered,” Capin said. “It needs to be considered.”
Capin’s colleagues took the opposite approach, expanding the event zone slightly to take in the north end of Harbour Island, which lies across Garrison Channel from the convention site.
Councilman Harry Cohen asked for the expansion because of the proximity to the convention. Harbour Island and Davis Islands has been removed from the most recent draft of the event zone as city leaders focused on keeping the zone within downtown’s natural boundaries.
The rules for the event zone ban a litany of potential weapons during the four-day convention. The ban covers everything from gas masks and water pistols to knives, brass knuckles and even lengths of rope. Anyone carrying a banned item in the event zone can expect to have it confiscated by police, city officials have said.
At the urging of Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, the city may make it easier to reserve any of the city’s parks during the RNC. The even zone ordinance loosens the rules for reserving city parks for events, but only in downtown. Montelione said those rules should apply citywide during the convention.
City officials will have the discretion to decide which parks to make available and when for protests and other events.
Many of the groups that have opposed the event zone over the past month repeated their opposition at Thursday’s council meeting. Several worried protesters would be the victims of overeager police officers brought to town for the event.
“We expect to lead a peaceful march on Aug. 27,” said Jared Hamil, spokesman for the Coalition to March on the RNC. “The only violence we expect is from the police.”
Tampa Assistant Police Chief John Bennett said training for RNC patrols will focus on giving protesters room to express themselves—as long as they do so legally.
“Our job is protect free speech and to make sure free speech is available to everybody,” Bennett said.
Responding to a question from Councilman Frank Reddick, Bennett said both local and out-of-town police apply a “sanity check” to decision about making arrests.
“We look to not have arrests,” he said.
To get arrested, people are going to have to break the law, Bennett said.
Prospective protester Amos Miers said the event zone almost guarantees that will happen.
“They’re making innocent people criminals,” said Miers, a member of Resist the RNC.
The event zone measures will return for a final council vote on May 17.
Opponents hope to make more tweaks between now and then. But even they understand there are limits to what the city will change.
“It’s a matter of perspective,” said Mike Pheneger, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
“If they go ahead and implement this ordinance with intelligence and flexibility, they’ll do better.”