City Agrees to Let Protesters Use Area Closer to Staples

by mark marbles Sunday, Jul. 30, 2000 at 5:19 AM From LA Times

Convention: Officials yield to pressure from a judge and the Democratic Party. But demonstrators say they won't be confined.

Under pressure from a federal judge and organizers of next month's Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles city officials reluctantly agreed Friday to make sidewalks, streets and a parking lot bordering Staples Center available to thousands of protesters.

The demonstrators offered few concessions in return.

The deal--quietly negotiated in 48 hours, beginning late Wednesday--overturns the city's original plan, which was to confine demonstrators to a fenced-in parking lot near the Harbor Freeway--blocks away from and well out of earshot of arriving delegates.

Even as they accepted the new agreement, city officials said they still preferred their initial plan, but had been left little room by the courts and the Democrats.

Last week, a federal judge rejected the city's "protest zone" as so far from the convention site that demonstrators' free speech rights would be infringed. Simultaneously, Democratic officials expressed concern about the public relations ramifications of restricting protesters, many of whom vowed to shun the designated zone, even if that meant clashes with police.

Filed with the federal court early Friday afternoon, the deal allows what city officials once vowed not to permit: the congregation of as many as 10,000 protesters directly across the street from Staples' northern entrance. Protest groups also won several other victories, including city commitments to revamp its permit processes for parades and public displays, to keep Pershing Square open for demonstrations and to build a stage for protesters outside the convention venue.

Lawyers for the city and for protesters said they expect U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess to approve the deal.

"We gave up a lot to make this agreement," Deputy City Atty. Debra Gonzales acknowledged yesterday. "This will create a very challenging situation for the Police Department, and I'm sure the Secret Service is nervous at this point as well. But we had to comply with the court, and get an agreement so we can start planning to accommodate these people."

Meanwhile, protest groups that accepted the deal--from the Service Employees International Union, Local 660, to the Los Angeles Coalition to Stop the Execution of Philadelphia's Mumia Abu-Jamal--insisted their actions would not be limited to the new area. And some activist groups gathering for the convention--including anarchists and the Berkeley-based Ruckus Society--are not parties to the agreement.

"People have the right to protest wherever they like," said Daniel P. Tokaji, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who negotiated the agreement on behalf of some protest groups.

But he and other protest organizers, such as Don White of the D2K Convention Planning Coalition, insisted that the deal would make demonstrators less frustrated and reduce the chances of confrontation.

"Repression breeds resistance and dissent," said Lisa Fithian of the Direct Action Network, which is coordinating protests. "I certainly think it would have created a climate of mistrust to keep people so far away. This agreement will help allow for safe and peaceable free speech to take place."

Democratic officials expressed similar hopes. "Allowing protests will uphold the Democratic [Party] tradition of free expression," said convention committee spokesman Peter Ragone.

City officials, however, weren't nearly so optimistic.

"One can always hope" there will be calm in downtown, Gonzales said. "But I don't know if that's going to be possible. . . . I am sure the Police Department is just having nightmares about this."

Original: City Agrees to Let Protesters Use Area Closer to Staples