Democratic Convention: Security & Protests
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2004; 10:00 AM
Earlier this month Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge praised security preparations for this week's Democratic National Convention in Boston. What precautions and plans have been arranged for the event? How has the city dealt with the heightened security measures? How are the restrictions on protesters affecting their desire to demonstrate?
Washington Post staff writer Jonathan Finer discussed the security and protests surrounding the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston.
The transcript follows.
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Jonathan Finer : Hi, it's Jon Finer typing from a fairly quiet Boston on the morning of the Democratic National Convention's first day. Looking forward to your questions.
Last night there were reports on the local news about parachutists landing on the Tip O'Neil Building downtown. What exactly happened, if anything?
Jonathan Finer : Let's get the "news" reports out of the way first. It turns out, according to the Boston police, that someone walking by the are of the FleetCenter, where the convention is being held, told one of the security folks they saw parachutists landing on the building. The police and state and federal security responded in force, searched the area, and found nothing. They are calling it a "non-event."
What kind of protesters do security forces expect at the convention?
Jonathan Finer : There were about 3,000 folks, according to police estimates, in an antiwar march from Boston Common to the FleetCenter yesterday. More events are planned throughout the week, of varying size. Many of the demonstrators told me yesterday that they expect protests during the Republican convention next month to be significantly larger.
A cage, seriously?
Aren't the Democrats, the party that is trying to promote free-speech? Who at the Democratic Convention committee agreed with the cage idea? Does that person still have a job?
I would assume that the Republicans will have a large (non-caged) area for demonstrators to make the point that people are free to disagree.
Jonathan Finer : It certainly looks like a cage--with two layers of chain-link fence, concrete barricades, mesh netting, and even some razor wire--but organizers have said that the unique security concerns associated with the event make it necessary.
This has been very controversial and generated a lawsuit in federal court led by the American Civil Liberties Union. A federal judge toured the area and ruled that it did not have to be modified. Protesters are very unhappy with it, with some calling for a boycott. I just came from a demonstration inside the zone, where around 30 protesters were dressed in black hoods with their hands bound and were being paraded around the area by guards in Democratic National Committee shirts.
On the bright side, from the protesters point of view, it is close to the convention site, unlike in New York, where some demonstrators will gather on the West Side Highway.
I saw on the news today that authorities have limited the number of protestors in Boston to about 1000 in the protest zones. Is this really permissible? Will there also be a limit in New York? I have heard estimates of 250,000 protestors for the Republican Convention. How are they going to contain that many? Thanks for your response.
Jonathan Finer : Police have said they will try to keep the zone from getting overcrowded, for safety reasons. Tobe clear, protesters are not barred from demonstrating in other parts of Boston, this is just the only place that's close to the FleetCenter.
As I mentioned, in New York, organizers of one large antiwar demonstration that could draw hundreds of thousands of people, have agreed to hold it on the West Side Highway, several blocks from Madison Square Garden.
Could you help confirm or deny some rumors circulating the internet about the extraordinary security measures at the Democratic Convention?
There are rumors that the barbed wire fencing in protesters was by order of Tom Ridge; so as to embarrass the Democrats.
Jonathan Finer :
The idea of extraordinary circumstances is certainly a reality not just a rumor. This city has never seen security like that in place this week. 40 miles of roads willbe closed each afternoon. One of the city's two major train stations is closed. And people will be randomly searched on subway trains, to name just a few of the major measures in place. I haven't heard the rumor you report about Ridge wanting to embarras Democrats, but the city of Boston, which has a Democratic Mayor, argued in court to keep the protest zone as is.
CNN was scrolling a story last night saying that an Anti-gay, anti-abortion protester was attacked. What happened?
Jonathan Finer : This is the first I've heard of it, but I will try to find out.
Last night I was searched on the MBTA Orange Line. I was instructed to open my bag and they looked inside. It didn't seem terribly random to me. Is this legal?
Jonathan Finer : This policy will apparently be challenged in court this week, so your question may be answered soon. Security officials say this is a necessary precaution because of the heightened security climate.
When the President came to Knoxville, he also put the protesters in a cage. They called them "1st Amendment Zones". Imagine that, you can only express your views as long as you are in the cage. The news coverage is then of the favorable crowds for the President and the protesters rarely get covered.
Jonathan Finer : There are lots of people who are not happy about this sort of thing. All I can say is that I, and I am sure other reporters, are trying to cover protests, which are an important part of an event like this. We had a story on protests yesterday and I am sure they will make tomorrow's paper as well.
Jonathan Finer : Thanks very much for your questions. I'll try to keep letting you know how things are going up here.
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