CLEVELAND URBAN NEWS.COM-CLEVELAND, Ohio — The ACLU of Ohio sued the city of Cleveland on Tuesday, claiming city officials are violating the free speech rights of protesters relative to the upcoming Republican National Convention, which begins on Monday, July 18, the day in which the local grassroots group the Imperial Women Coalition will speak first on Public Square on the city's official speaking platform.
"While the Ohio ACLU and the city fight it out, the Imperial Women Coalition has secured the opening 9:30 am Public Square speaking slot to address the epidemic of violence against women locally, statewide, nationally and internationally and we want to know what the presidential candidates intend to do about this growing problem, "said greater Cleveland community activist Kathy Wray Coleman, who leads the grassroots group and is editor-in-chief of Cleveland Urban News.Com, Ohio's most read Black digital newspaper. (See a copy of the City of Cleveland permit for the speaking protest above this article).
Coleman is Black and said that the ACLU's aggression likely contributed to her group getting the Public Square protest stage permit from city officials on Monday via email, and for that, she thanks the ACLU.
Other groups have received speaking permits too, including Black on Black Crime Inc.
But some are in limbo, and the ACLU has demanded in its lawsuit that the city act immediately on permit applications.
One out-of-town group seeking a permit, Bikers for Trump, claims they will bring more than 100,000 bikers to the city, which sources say is unlikely.
Filed in federal court and assigned to Judge James S. Gwin, who has given the city a deadline of June 20 to respond, the ACLU's lawsuit alleges in part that the city is delaying permits to protesters regarding its Public Square speaking forum and otherwise, and that its official parade route and protester's participation requirements at two city parks are unconstitutional.
The protest parade route, the lawsuit says, is designed to keep protesters a third of a mile away from the downtown convention site and GOP delegates, and is limited in scope as to the four-day convention.
Also at issue is the 3.3 mile security event zone in which protest activity is limited.
The ACLU says the event zone is too large.
Christine Link, executive director for the ACLU of Ohio, called the restrictions arbitrary and capricious, and unconstitutional. She filed the suit on behalf of the groups Organize Ohio, Citizens for Trump, and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, which alleges the parade route will impact where homeless people live.
Lawyers for the city say they are balancing free speech with safety, and that some 50,000 people are expected for the convention.
Protesters, they say, can march but they cannot interfere with sidewalks or the streets unless they operate within the city's parade route boundaries and have received a city permit.
The city has received a $51 million grant from the federal government to ready itself for potential fallout from demonstrators, money used for law enforcement purposes, including Star Wars-type police outfits that activists say is the illegal militarization of a majority Black major American city.
City officials say they simply want a peaceful and non-violent atmosphere and that they have given protesters an adequate forum to express free speech concerns.
"We have done what we could to give protesters a forum to speak freely," said Dan Williams, the media spokesperson for Democratic Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson during a telephone interview with Cleveland Urban News.Com editor-in-chief Kathy Wray Coleman.
The city's speaking forum allows protesters to speak in 30 min intervals beginning at 9:30 am on July 18 and ending each day of the four-day convention at 6 pm.
Coleman said that the Imperial Women Coalition, which signed up first to speak according to city officials, will address violence against women in greater Cleveland and elsewhere as to their 9:30 am Public Square speaking slot and will return at 12:30 pm the same day to discuss other public policy matters for 30 more minutes.
Her group was founded around the murders of 11 Black women on Imperial Avenue in Cleveland by serial killer and death row inmate Anthony Sowell, who is seeking a new trial with support of the Ohio ACLU, which has filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court where the case is pending.
Other greater Cleveland murders of women for which Coleman has led rallies pertain to the East Cleveland serial killer Michael Madison murders, and the Cleveland East 93rd Street Murders of three women in 2013, namely Christine Malone, 43, Jasmine Trotter, 20, and Ashley Leszyeski, 21, and whose serial killer is still at large.
A longtime community activist, Coleman has also spearheaded rallies regarding the celebrated abduction and rape and kidnapping case of Ariel Castro, who held Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry captive for a decade on the city's west side, and who hanged himself in prison while serving a life sentence.