Activists get go-ahead to erect ‘tent city’ for G-20 protest

Friday, September 18, 2009

Editor’s note: The Associated Press reported that on June 2, 2010, U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster awarded lawyers for a protest group about $96,000 in legal fees stemming from Pittsburgh's effort to bar an exhibit during the G-20 summit.

PITTSBURGH — A federal judge in Pittsburgh has ordered the city to allow an
anti-war group to use a state park during next week’s Group of 20 summit but
denied two other groups’ requests.

U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster ruled
yesterday in a lawsuit filed by
the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Center for
Constitutional Rights on behalf of several groups that plan to protest during
the economic summit.

Lancaster approved CodePink’s request to erect a “tent city” in Point State
Park to draw attention to war refugees.

The city had denied the group’s request to set up its tent city from the
evening of Sept. 20 until the evening of Sept. 22, saying it might conflict with
an annual race that will be staged in the park.

City officials and attorneys had said tents and other structures for the
Sept. 20 race must be taken down, and inclement weather could push the tear-down
into Sept. 21. Officials didn’t want to break down one set while Code Pink set
up. The city offered the park for Sept. 22, but CodePink said one day wouldn’t
be enough time to get its message across.

The judge sided with CodePink, finding that the city’s restrictions “would
result in the loss of CodePink’s First Amendment freedoms.” Lancaster said that
allowing CodePink to use the park would not harm the city because in previous
years, the structures used for the annual race have been removed by 5 p.m. on
the Sunday of the event.

Lancaster, however, denied a request by the Thomas Merton Center, an anti-war
group, to rally on a bridge near the summit, saying the city had a safety
interest in refusing the request.

The city had offered an alternate route that would cross the bridge and put
the protesters either directly across the river from the convention center, or
bring them back across another bridge to a parking lot near it. Security
perimeters preclude the march from taking a direct route to the lot.

The Thomas Merton Center and attorneys for the ACLU had said the cross-river
spot would be unsafe because it’s located on a narrow recreation path close to
the river. And the alternatives would be too far for many people to march.

The judge, however, found that the city’s restrictions were reasonable and
would not violate the group’s First Amendment rights.

Lancaster also denied a request by the Three Rivers Climate Convergence to
camp in a park for a sustainability festival, saying that the plaintiffs’
camping wouldn’t be protected expressive speech.

“I find by a preponderance of the credible evidence presented indicates that
while permitting the protesters to set up camp and sleep in Schenley Park would
facilitate their protest efforts, Plaintiffs’ intent is not, as they proffered,
expressive conduct,” Lancaster said. “Rather, the evidence establishes that
their purpose in making this request is to accommodate the hundreds of people
who are traveling to Pittsburgh for the purpose of protesting the G-20 and have
no other place to stay.”

Representatives of the denied groups said they would continue talks with the

Tags: , ,