Speaking freely before City Council | Blogh

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Speaking freely before City Council

Posted By on Thu, Sep 3, 2009 at 6:51 AM

I've posted a video montage from yesterday's City Council hearing on G-20 security measures, with testimony by those seeking to hold demonstrations Downtown. Apologies if the sound quality is a bit off. (Note to protesters: You're trying to get your message heard, right? So stand closer to the microphone.) 

One interesting tidbit on the video: Jules Lobel, a civil-rights attorney, contends that Pittsburgh's "buffer zone" could be larger than those imposed for any other large-scale demonstration in U.S. history. A permitted Downtown march sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, he noted, only sought to end at the federal courthouse on Grant Street. That's 1,000 feet away from the Convention Center, where formal G-20 activities will be held. By contrast, the buffer zone separating protesters from the 2008 Republican National Convention was less than 100 feet.

(Of course, no one knows yet what the security perimeter will be yet, and things may not be quite as bad as Lobel fears. The day before the City Council hearing, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership sent out a bulletin advising that "[T]he 'hard perimeter' expected around the Convention Center is shrinking, and therefore its impacts may be less than what we originally thought.")

What will come of all this? As you'll see from my column in this week's edition, I'm worried that City Council is poised to do what Congress did after 9/11 -- allow momentary fears to permanently, and often needlessly, reshape the way we think about civil liberties. And at least Congress had an excuse: The terrorists had just killed thousands of Americans, and there are others still out there, somewhere, hoping to kill more of us. By contrast, the protesters coming here will be leaving when the G-20 does. And even the most fearmongering TV reports I've seen aren't suggesting that they'll be wielding firearms or anything. I mean, this isn't a "town hall" meeting on health care, for goodness sake. 

One of the most troubling features of the new security measures, though, is that as currently drafted, they would be permanent. The new rules would apply even after the G-20 ended. But I've been assured that council will be looking into a "sunset provision," which would make the larger restrictions temporary only. That's the least council can do, so I wouldn't be surprised if that's all that gets done. 

Speaking of council, didja catch this gem from Jim Motznik today, in a Post-Gazette story about a proposed tax break for seniors?

"So it's not in compliance with state law. Big deal. I don't give a damn if [the tax break] is illegal or unconstitutional if it supports the poor people of the city of Pittsburgh."

This guy is going to be a district judge next year. And on the one hand, it's not too reassuring to have a judge who doesn't think it's a "big deal" to not comply with state law. On the other hand, I just thought of a great defense to try out if I'm ever in his courtroom: "Your honor, I only did it to support the poor people of the city of Pittsburgh."

In fact, any G-20 arrestees should think about giving that line a shot.