Convention control

RNC security will hopefully allow protestors more freedom than past conventions.

St. Paul continued to gear up for the Republican National Convention by announcing a tentative plan for protesters. According to the St. Paul Police Department, protesters will be limited to one route for marching and several “free speech” areas will be designated. Certainly order must be maintained at such a high-profile event, but it’s discouraging to feel that free speech is being gently bumped aside. It feels patronizing to be forced into designated areas to voice your thoughts. However, we can’t be too upset. St. Paul police are making it sound like our convention will be run with just a touch of “Minnesota nice” compared to 2004 in Boston and New York. While it’s not ideal, it is certainly a step forward for free speech.

The highly charged political atmosphere surrounding the 2004 election led both New York and Boston to take extreme measures for their conventions. Boston featured fenced-in pens to hold protesters. These free speech zones were nearby the entrance to the convention, but the completely enclosed areas featured razor wire on the top and cement barriers to control the “free speech.” This imprisonment of protesters was deplorable, and shouldn’t be repeated. St. Paul police have determined that those types of fencing arrangements won’t be necessary for this year’s convention. We’ll still have designated zones, but they won’t include such foreboding features. See, it’s just a little bit nicer.

The police also announced that protesters will be within shouting distance of the doors to the Xcel Energy Center. This is again an important improvement, considering protesters in New York were kept far from the convention entrance.

With the mix of important politicians and thousands of protesters from around the country, this potentially explosive mix is being handled well by police so far. Police are giving protesters some space, but are taking security seriously. It’s a tricky balance. For example, police just ordered 230 Tasers, but they won’t be flanking the streets in riot gear. It’s far from perfect, but it’s nice that police are attempting to tone down the heavy-handed control from recent conventions.