The right to assemble and speak freely, to protest, is enshrined in the Constitution. A raft of organisations in Denver are being represented by the ACLU in suing the City of Denver and the Secret Service, in order to establish where and how they can exercise their rights to protest or promote a range of issues during the upcoming Democratic Convention.
By now, the City of Denver and Secret Service should have conducted their version of an Intelligent Preparation of the Environment, and identified the areas it – through the City of Denver police – can best facilitate and control protestors in line with that security plan. The integration of executing counterterrorism tactics with preserving the rights of free speech and protest is a tricky concept, particularly when a fixed location and environment, known to all months in advance, is being used.
There are two apparently conflicting agendas at work here, agendas that are not as nearly conflicting as they first appear. The Secret Service and the City of Denver’s first priority is the safety of the delegates, attendees, citizens of Denver and the protestors themselves, as well as that of the security personnel and police officers. The protestors wish to be able to demonstrate effectively, and make to be heard.
There is an acceptable middle road that should be acceptable to every party. My advice is that at this stage there should be meetings ongoing between those who wish to protest and those officials responsible for security and policing. The protestors should be outlining their aspirations for what they wish to achieve from their protesting at the Convention, and the Security Service and City of Denver outlining at this point what the absolute limits are going to be, and that there is an ongoing plan to create the ability for the protesting groups to be given the platforms they need.
As the security planning develops, and the intelligence picture becomes clearer, an iterative plan can then be developed that facilitates the security of everyone involved, as well as maintains enough secrecy to protect the vital information.
As I have mentioned ad naseum, protesting is about having one’s voice heard. If people suspect their voice will not be heard, they will turn to more extreme acts in order to do so. At this point there should be an undertaking given about the baseline restrictions and possibilities for protesting, in order to prevent preemptive escalation of protesting intent, and to smooth the way for a co-operative, rather than combative, conference.