ACLU leader praises city's protest efforts
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One the region's most vocal advocates for civil liberties yesterday praised the Pittsburgh administration's efforts to accommodate the protesters who plan to demonstrate against the upcoming G-20 conference.
"They've certainly come a long way in 10 years, and they really deserve commendation," said Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
That doesn't mean he or the would-be protesters have ruled out filing a lawsuit against the city for alleged federal rights violations.
A meeting tentatively is set for late tomorrow afternoon between Mr. Walczak and the city's legal department in an effort to reach agreement on the sticking points that are blocking approval of 15 protest permit applications that have been filed.
As things stand today, he expects that at least two of the applications -- one from Code Pink and the other from Three Rivers Climate Convergence -- will be rejected. Both are for demonstrations at Point State Park, where officials have said it isn't feasible to accommodate both the protesters and the local police staging area then the preparations for the marathon that follows the international conference.
Mr. Walczak declined to say whether those denials will result in a lawsuit from the ACLU or the protesters. He did describe the Point as "prime real estate for demonstrations."
Despite the sticking points, Mr. Walczak said his relationship with the city in working on protesters' permits is a "far cry from where we were a decade ago. Basically, anybody who has applied for a permit not on Thursday or Friday is going to get approved," with the exception of requests that involve overnight camping at city parks. "That's significant," he said.
As to that issue, Mr. Walczak said he will propose at the next meeting with city legal staff that Schenley Park be opened to the protesters. He contends there is precedent: "They've done it for the Boy Scouts," he said.
In addition to overnight camping, another sticking point includes how close protesters can get to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where the summit will be held.
One group, from the Thomas Merton Center, wants to march from Oakland to the nearby federal building but may be restricted to stop at the City-County Building on Grant Street. An alternate location will be discussed.
"That's significant. They want to be in sight of the object of their protest," he explained.
Joanna Doven, a spokesman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the mayor is committed to helping protesters express their First Amendment rights.
"There's an underlying principle that people have a right to express their views. To the extent that we can approve the permits, we will. But, there are some permit requests that don't fit into our city laws," she said.
First Published September 7, 2009 12:00 am