When we filed our lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and its police department for their plans to corral peaceful demonstrators in a fenced parking lot out of sight and earshot of their intended audience, we knew we would receive plenty of criticism. We knew that the Los Angeles Police Department would attempt to portray the demonstrators as a threat to the security of our city. And we knew that our defense of free speech would be misrepresented by LAPD apologists both within the Department and elsewhere. There have been no surprises on any of these counts.
But whenever the ACLU of Southern California and its work are grossly misrepresented in the media, we feel it's necessary to take the extra step of responding directly.
On more than one occasion since we filed our lawsuit on June 30, the ACLU of Southern California has been portrayed as reluctant to participate in the problem-solving process but eager to sue when problems result. Commander David Kalish, a spokesperson for the LAPD, first floated a test balloon of this mischaracterization in the Los Angeles Times; critics of long standing were only too eager to pick it up, without bothering to check their facts. Not one of these critics called the ACLU to make a simple inquiry.
Had they done so, they would have discovered that the ACLU of Southern California in fact tried to participate in the security planning process for the Democratic National Convention. In response to a letter requesting help from the LAPD, the ACLU made a written offer last August to look at any plans that the LAPD developed in order to help the Department implement a plan that would not violate the First Amendment. We followed up with a verbal offer to Commander Thomas Lorenzen, requesting that the LAPD maintain open communication with us in order to preserve civilians' free speech rights at the Convention. Despite many written attempts to learn of the LAPD's proposals, it was not until June 13 that the Department confirmed its plans to shut down free speech in a 186-acre area around the Staples Center.
Preserving our First Amendment rights is a sacred trust for the ACLU; we will do that through every means at our disposal - offering our Constitutional expertise during the planning process for events such as the Democratic National Convention - and, if necessary, suing the City and the LAPD when their plans fail to allow for the full exercise of our Constitutional rights.
The Police Department's spokespeople and apologists are inventing complaints about process and etiquette rather than addressing the real issue: the LAPD's unconstitutional plan to divorce protesters from their intended audience and to suppress the dissent a healthy democracy requires.