RNC security plan allows guns within blocks of convention, ACLU continues lawsuit on protest restrictions

Secret Service and Milwaukee city officials on Friday revealed a security plan for the Republican National Convention that includes allowing guns within blocks of the event, as well as restricted areas for demonstrations that the Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said “cannot be justified.”

Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle said officials have been prepping for more than a year and have coordinated with 15 public safety entities — including the Chicago Police Department. In turn, Chicago police are getting help from Milwaukee police for the Democratic National Convention in August.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Milwaukee police chief Jeffrey Norman said at the news conference. “We’re very appreciative of the support coming from Chicago. … [CPD Supt.] Larry Snelling is a brother from another mother.”

Temporary street closures in Milwaukee will begin July 11, though vehicle checkpoints and security perimeters will start July 14 at 5 a.m.

There will be two perimeters around the convention: an outer perimeter where vehicles will be screened and an inner perimeter that won’t allow vehicles of any kind and where only individuals with credentials will be able to enter, aside from residents of one building that falls in the zone.

People will be allowed to carry guns within the outer perimeter, though no weapons of any kind will be permitted within the inner perimeter. Wisconsin law bans machine guns, short-barreled shotguns and silencers, but allows individuals to carry other guns either openly or concealed.

The RNC will have an inner and outer perimeter security zones with different restrictions.

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Businesses in the inner perimeter will be able to stay open — some have elected not to — but will only be accessible to people carrying RNC credentials.

“The goal of the Secret Service and our partners is to provide a secure environment while minimizing impact,” said Secret Service RNC coordinator Audrey Gibson-Cicchino. “We encourage everyone to stay open. … We’re prepared to respond to any situation that arises.”

Two areas along the fence of the inner perimeter will be designated for protesters who have signed up with the city, both with speaking platforms and a speaker system provided and operated by the city.

The south location in Zeidler Union Square will have a parade route for groups to march along, while the north location at Haymarket Square Park will be near the delegate entrance. Both zones will operate between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Each of the more than 100 organizations that have signed up to demonstrate so far will have 30 minutes on the stage. No groups have been denied so far, according to Nick Desiato, chief of staff for the Milwaukee mayor’s office, though applications close June 30 and spots are filling up.

Applicants will be asked if they or their group have been convicted of “engaging in violent or destructive conduct” through Milwaukee’s municipal code in the last seven years.

“Our responsibility is to provide sight and sound options,” Desiato said. “As long as you are exercising your First Amendment speech within the rights of the Constitution, we are agnostic to the content of the speech.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin announced Friday it would continue with its federal lawsuit against the city regarding the restriction of demonstrations around the convention. The group stated it was “surprised and disappointed” to see how large the restricted area was, which it added “cannot be justified.”

“The large size of this zone makes it more critical than ever that the city take steps to allow for effective opportunities for expression,” Tim Muth, staff attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “We hope for a swift ruling that will vindicate the coalition’s plan for a march that passes within sight and sound of Fiserv Forum.”

Chicago has seen similar lawsuits, though city officials said they are attempting to cut a deal with protesters, allowing a path for demonstrators that’s “United Center adjacent” — a change from earlier attempts to direct demonstrations three miles away to Grant Park.

Norman said officials have a contingency plan for mass arrests in the event that “unfortunate circumstance” arises, adding that he wasn’t going in with the expectation of any arrests.

Norman also said the coalition of law enforcement agencies had been working with local groups to ensure mass arrests are the “last resort” when it comes to managing protesters.

“This is not where we’re going to look for trouble or instigate, but we’re going to respond,” Norman said. “We’re not trying to be the focus of the event. … [But] we will not tolerate any violence or any destruction of property in our city.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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