Thursday, September 17, 2009

Judge Splits Ruling

Federal Judge Gary Lancaster split his ruling into three parts this morning taking the three complaints individually. The judge ruled that the city did not infringe on the Thomas Merton Center’s right to free speech by denying its request to march to the 7th street Bridge and rally on the span. The city did approve a permit to rally in Oakland Friday Sept. 25th, march to the City County Building on Grant Street, and then hold another rally there. He says the city did offer the group two alternative locations for their final rally including one “in the shadow of the convention center.” One option offered was for the marchers to cross the 7th Street Bridge and rally on the North Shore and the other was to take a convoluted route to the edge of the strip district next to the center. The judge ruled that the city had a responsibility to protect the marchers, protesters and G20 participants and a rally on the bridge would stretch public safety assets too thin.
Jonah McAllister-Erickson of the Thomas Merton center says the location on the North Shore makes the march too long and it is too hard to get to the location in the strip due to the security perimeter. The group says it will take up the city’s offer to meet again in an effort to find another location “in the golden triangle” to serve as the end of the march.
Judge Lancaster then ruled that Code Pink should be allowed to set up tents and displays in Point State Park starting at 7pm Sunday. The group will be able to keep the displays in the park until 7pm Tuesday. Code Pink diced to not stay overnight in the park as it had originally requested. The judge says the city’s denial of the request was an infringement on the group’s right to free speech. The hours of the permit are limited by set up and tear down of the Junior Great Race Sunday the 20th, The Great Race Sunday the 27th and a Wednesday night rally and concert sponsored by PA State Senator Jim Ferlo, the United Steel Workers Union and a group lead by former Vice President Al Gore. He says the city’s refusal to allow Code Pink access to the park was not narrowly tailored to the city’s interests.
Code Pink member Eileen Olmstead says she is pleased with decision. She says it has been a long hard fight for their first amendment rights and this will allow her group to get its message to the public. She says the message is that, “we hope the financial policies of the G20 nations will result in greater prosperity for less affluent nations and lead to a cessation of destructive conflict.”
Finally judge Lancaster ruled against Three Rivers Climate Convergence’s (3RCC) assertion that the city was infringing on its rights of expression and travel by disallowing the group to set up an overnight camp in Schenely Park. The judge entered into the record that he has, “serious doubts that sleeping overnight is expressive conduct.” He also says the camp is an apparent attempt to “accommodate protesters from out-of-town.” He noted that the city has a policy against sleeping overnight in its parks and such an activity would harm the park, add cleanup costs to the city budget and force public safety to stretch its resources thin as it tries to secure the location 24-hours a day. He says there are ample opportunities for protesters to find lodging in the city or camp in nearby state parks. At the same time Lancaster ruled that 3RCC could use Schenley Park during the day and it could use Point State Park during the day starting Sunday at 7pm through Tuesday at 7pm.
3RCC organizer Lisa Fithian says she is “saddened and disappointed” by the ruling. She says the judge does not understand that the over night camp is an important part of getting out their message. She says a camp is the best way to show there is another way to live that is less impactful to the environment. Fithian says she will confer with her members and decided were they will hold the event.

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