Privacy SOS

Tampa City Council restricts speech in advance of RNC

Police at the RNC in 2008, credit Andrew Ciscel

The Tampa, Florida City Council has approved new rules to restrict political protest in opposition to the 2012 Republican National Convention. The New York Times reports:

In May the city adopted a temporary ordinance that will clamp down on protests in dozens of blocks near the Tampa Convention Center. Among other things, the ordinance requires a permit for groups of 50 or more to gather in parks; sets a limit of 90 minutes on parades; and bans an array of items, including glass bottles, aerosol cans and pieces of rope longer than six feet. It also provided for an official parade route for protesters along with viewing areas.
In what is becoming a bizarre trend nationwide, the City Council banned fake guns but will allow people to carry concealed guns in and around the convention. Bottles and long ropes are prohibited, but pistols are not.
 
During public debates, some Tampa residents and City Council members opposed the rules, calling them excessive. Others complained that while the ordinance outlawed water pistols, actual pistols were allowed for those with permits to carry a concealed weapon. Although Tampa’s mayor, Bob Buckhorn, had asked the state’s governor, Rick Scott, to ban firearms during the convention, the governor has refused.
Members of an anti-RNC organizing committee are worried that police may be planning to send infiltrators and instigators into their movement, as the FBI did during the 2008 RNC. Back then two young men went to federal prison after they were charged with terrorism in connection with plans to throw molotov cocktails at police. The case was built around an activist turned FBI informant, Brandon Darby. Tampa anti-RNC organizers have provided a financial reward to anyone who can out a government informant before the RNC this summer.
 
As with every "special security event" held in the United States, the Tampa RNC has provided an occasion for the further militarization of the domestic police in that city, as well as a proliferation of surveillance cameras. Again, the Times:
The Tampa government has paid $57,000 to sublease a lot, which will be open to protesters 24 hours a day, a few hundred feet from the convention center. About half of a $50 million federal security grant has been allocated to pay 1,000 local officers and 3,000 officers from other cities to police the protests. The city has also bought gas masks for officers and installed security cameras in downtown Tampa.
Stay tuned for more on Tampa. And keep your eye on Charlotte, NC, where the DNC will be held this summer. Similar problems are stewing in that host city, including a giant dump of license plate trackers that will swarm the town during the DNC but will likely stick around forever.
 
Read more on the cameras in Tampa, and on the lingering effects of "national special security events" in cities nationwide.

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