Secret Service May Be Backing Off Plans For Unacceptable ‘First Amendment Zone’ at Milwaukee Convention

News & Politics

The Secret Service is in overall command of security for the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. Their plans for a “First Amendment Zone” about 1/3 of a mile from Fiserv Forum where the convention will be held has been met with fury by Republican officials. 

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NBC News reported last month that “the Secret Service says that the security perimeter is based on a threat assessment and that it isn’t inclined to take more turf than it must — leaving the decision about the protest zone to the city of Milwaukee.”

In April, GOP Convention officials sent a letter to the Secret Service pointing out that the location for the “First Amendment Zone,” Pere Marquette Park, is “dangerous because thousands of convention attendees will be forced to walk by the park en route to the festivities, a lawyer for the Republican Party wrote in the letter,” according to the Washington Post, who obtained a copy of the letter.

“This will force thousands of peaceful attendees and demonstrators, who may otherwise choose to avoid or limit direct, proximate engagement with one another, to be in extremely close, consistent, and unavoidable proximity,” wrote the lawyer, Todd Steggerda of McGuireWoods.

In contrast, the Democratic National Convention “First Amendment Zone” is more than three miles from the United Center where the convention will be held.

After Republicans have spent the last month screaming at Secret Service head  Kimberly Cheatle, trying to make her understand their concerns, the Secret Service now says that no security arrangements have been finalized.

Associated Press:

Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle said law enforcement agencies have been making safety plans for more than a year, including working with businesses on potential impact and creating a secure zone around the convention site. She said further details would come in two weeks.

“We’re fully prepared,” she told reporters at a briefing with Milwaukee police and fire officials. “We realize that there most likely will be demonstrations but we’re prepared to address those.”

Cheatle said she is in communications with RNC officials but sidestepped direct questions about their safety concerns. RNC leaders have sent a letter to the Secret Service asking officials to keep protesters back farther from the site than had been originally planned, arguing that an existing plan “creates an elevated and untenable safety risk to the attending public.”

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Previously, the Secret Service ignored Republican efforts to talk to them about security at the convention. And the Milwaukee police are claiming that the real security threat at the convention will be Republican delegates.

Washington Post:

At the meeting, a Milwaukee police captain also said there were concerns within the community that Republican convention attendees might “terrorize Milwaukee citizens” and “harass minorities.”

“There is fear in the community,” the Milwaukee police official said.

Nick DeSiato, chief of staff for Milwaukee’s City Hall, said that “the captain’s comment reflected feedback from some of our community members.”

The ACLU is suing the city of Milwaukee because they want to move the First Amendment Zone closer to the venue and allow more disruptive tactics.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

The park is about two blocks from Fiserv Forum, but the Coalition argued in the lawsuit that there is no line of sight to the arena to make their voices heard to convention attendees.

The Coalition’s requests in the lawsuit include that the city be required to issue a parade route within “sight and sound” of Fiserv Forum, where former President Donald Trump is expected to accept the nomination to run for another term in the White House. They also asked that the city remove all “unjustified” time, place and manner restrictions on “First Amendment” activities within the security “footprint” and that all permit applications to use the podium and march route be processed immediately.

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The pressure on the Secret Service to move the protest zone in the name of safety may or may not bear fruit. But it’s a certainty that protesters are going to do their best to disrupt the convention in any way they can.

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