- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

Activists preparing for Inauguration Day protests yesterday condemned the limits placed on their demonstration paraphernalia such as puppets, signs and stilts and threatened legal action over the restrictions.
"The rubric of security will not be falsely used to prevent demonstrating," said Brian Becker, co-director of the International Action Center, a New York City group organizing demonstrations.
The Partnership for Civil Justice, a legal network working with the activists, is reviewing the limits for a possible legal challenge.
"If these plans are illegal and unconstitutional, we'll challenge it in court," Mara Verheyden-Hillard, an attorney with the group, said at a news conference yesterday.
Authorities yesterday confirmed what kind of regulations will govern signs whether they are for or against President-elect George W. Bush along the Pennsylvania Avenue inaugural parade route.
The only new provision, officials said, is checkpoints to enter the general public's viewing area. Secret Service agents and Metropolitan Police Department officers will man the entries.
"What a sign says is not our concern, but it's what is holding the sign up that could be used as a weapon," said Secret Service Agent Jim Mackin, a spokesman for the agency. "No one is trying to prohibit anyone's right to free speech."
Law enforcement officials said they issued the rules at the request of demonstrators who had sought details of what was allowed.
Puppets and stilts favored props used by activists for "street theater" are banned from the parade route because they could conceal or be used as weapons, authorities said.
"We are not policing their message," said Michael Radzilowski, commander of the Metropolitan Police Department's special-operations division. "They have a right to come and demonstrate."
As long as demonstrators abide by the rules for signs and they don't bring prohibited items like puppets or "structures," they will be left alone, Cmdr. Radzilowski said.
Authorities also will search backpacks and bags on persons entering the parade-viewing area.
Persons only will be subject to a search if police have information to form "a reasonable suspicion," a law enforcement official said. Unusual attire or appearance won't constitute suspicion, the official said.
The parade's viewing area for the public "will be wide enough and big enough so if you're not carrying any objects the Secret Service is concerned with, like a backpack, you can just walk right in," Cmdr. Radzilowski said. "Our goal is to make this user-friendly."
One rule under criticism is a requirement that any pole on a sign be made of wood and three-quarters of an inch thick at most a standard used by the National Park Police for routine demonstrations on the White House sidewalk.
Those rules are "a gross violation of the First and Fourth amendments," said Adam Eidinger, an organizer with the Justice Action Movement, which will stage a demonstration at Freedom Plaza.
"They're militarizing this event," he said. "This is their way of stifling free speech and political dissent."
Other activists sounded the same note, accusing police of "acting as corporate operatives to keep us away from the president," said Liz Butler of the Coastal Rainforest Coalition.
Authorities said the rule is meant to prevent someone using the sign's pole as a weapon.
"These safety precautions are in effect … not only for the safety of those in the parade, but for those in the crowds as well," Agent Mackin said.
Activists yesterday promised "tens of thousands" of demonstrators throughout the District on Inauguration Day.
A loose-knit coalition of liberal and radical causes will take to the streets to protest against Mr. Bush, though organizers have promised to keep the demonstrations peaceful.
"We intend to do political harm to the president," Mr. Becker said. "It's a political embarrassment, but it's not a threat to George W. Bush's security."
Many of the activists gearing up for Jan. 20 are veterans of protests against "corporate globalization" in Seattle in 1999 and the District last April.
The same groups staged protests, including civil disobedience, in Philadelphia and Los Angeles for the Republican and Democratic national conventions, respectively.
Authorities told The Washington Times they are more cautious for this inauguration because of the burgeoning anti-establishment that will be joined by liberal and Democratic groups.
Conservative activists plan to stage counterdemonstrations against the leftists another concern for police.
"Whenever you're managing large crowds and you have different opinions on both sides and they're intermixed, there is always the potential" for clashes, Cmdr. Radzilowski said.


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