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Tampa passes RNC “event zone”
Posted May 17, 2012 by Kevin Wiatrowski
Updated May 17, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Tampa City Council passed Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s “event zone,” laying out the rules that will govern protesters during this summer’s Republican National Convention.
The vote was 4-2 with council members Yvonne Capin and Mary Mulhern dissenting.
Capin said she remained opposed to the ordinance because she felt the “event zone” footprint was too large. Mulhern opposed the ordinance’s permitting requirements for protest rallies.
She also voted against the proposal to make a statement about Gov. Rick Scott’s recent refusal to bend state guns laws to let the city regulate concealed weapons in the zone. Without a gun ban, there’s no guarantee the event zone restrictions will actually protect people as intended, she said.’
“Do I feel safer because of the restrictions in this ordinance?” Mulhern said. “I do not.”
City attorneys tweaked the final version of the event zone to include the public area of Harbour Island, which lies across Garrison Channel from the convention site, and letting the city’s parks director open up parks outside the event zone for use by groups during the RNC.
Event zone opponents—greatly reduced in number since the council’s April 3 vote in favor of the event zone—repeated their concerns that the zone violated their First Amendment rights. They asked the city to consider organizing concerts and other events to create a less confrontational atmosphere during the convention.
“In a free society, we should foster good behavior, not control it,” said Amos Miers, part of a group known as Resist the RNC.
Mike Pheneger, president of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, urged the city to take approach protesters with as light a hand as possible.
“We don’t want to recreate the violent images that lingered for years after previous events,” Pheneger said.
The city’s success at avoiding such images will depend largely on the discretion of the police and cooperation between them and protesters, he said.
“Unfortunately, many of the demonstrators you have seen doubt your sincerity,” Pheneger said.
Councilman Mike Suarez disputed the notion that the event zone’s rules impinge on people’s rights to free speech.
“We do not believe that this rises to that occasion,” Suarez said. “We are not trampling on rights.”
Even as they prepared to approve the event zone, council members remained upset that they can’t regulate guns downtown during the RNC.
State law blocks local governments from doing anything to regulate the carrying of concealed weapons. That legal loophole has opened the city up to national ridicule since it was revealed by The Tampa Tribune.
Capin suggested the city might work around that rule by banning bullets as explosives.
Bullets, like guns, are banned from local control, she learned from City Attorney Jim Shimberg.
“It’s almost unnerving tha the Legislature and governor have put us in this position,” Capin said.