- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

CLEVELAND (AP) - Civil liberties advocates sent a letter on Thursday threatening to sue Cleveland if officials fail to decide by June 1 whether to grant parade permits to groups planning rallies and marches during July’s Republican National Convention.

“Delays by the city are effectively blocking groups from exercising their fundamental right to political expression,” Christine Link, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio’s executive director, said in a statement on Thursday.

A city spokesman said Thursday that officials had not received the ACLU’s letter, which complains that groups have been told that Cleveland won’t issue permits until two weeks before the convention, when the U.S. Secret Service has finalized its security plan. The convention starts July 18.

Delays in the approval process “will severely hinder, if not entirely prevent, them from carrying out their constitutionally protected activities,” the ACLU letter.

It’s perhaps appropriate, given the extraordinary and sometime volatile nature of the presidential primary campaign, that the ACLU is representing groups from both ends of the political spectrum.

Organize! Ohio is coordinating a July 18 event that will include more than two dozen liberal groups for a protest about economic and social inequality.

Citizens for Trump is planning an event the same day. It initially sought to protest efforts by the Republican establishment to stop Donald Trump from winning the party’s nomination, but it now plans to celebrate the real estate mogul’s expected nomination.

Organizers for both sides say they don’t want trouble and respect each other’s rights to express their views. Yet they’re also worried about what could happen if the two sides run into each other. Permits and cooperation from the city, they say, are needed to help keep the peace and everyone safe, including police officers who will be patrolling downtown.

“Without getting control of this, there’s going to be chaos,” said Ralph King, the local organizer for the Trump event. “There’s not going to be a defined line.”

King and Larry Bresler of Organize! Ohio both said their plans to hold rallies and marches won’t be thwarted even if the city denies them their permits.

“We’ve been working on this since September,” Bresler said. “We’re not going to stop just because they don’t give us a permit.”

The ACLU is also representing an Asheville, North Carolina, man who is seeking space in a city park where military veterans opposed to Trump can camp out during the convention. Organizer John Penley said Cleveland officials at this point won’t even let him submit an application.

“This is not how other (convention) cities have done it,” Penley said. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to have a place for protesters who come to town.”

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