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G-20 Protesters in PA Make Push in Court

September 16, 2009

PITTSBURGH - When Pittsburgh hosts the G-20 global economic summit next week, protesters are expected to turn out by the thousands. On Wednesday, a federal court will consider a lawsuit claiming the city is making it nearly impossible for some of the groups to make their views known - and allegedly violating their free speech rights in the process.

Vic Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says one question lies at the heart of the suit.

"Where can those people - who want to peacefully express their opposition to the policies of the G-20 - where can they go? The city has made it very, very difficult."

Walczak says the city has been shuffling its bureaucratic feet in issuing permits for groups seeking to hold marches and other events, or to camp in city parks, and appears to be playing favorites in some cases. For instance, he says, a senator, the steelworkers' union and a group headed by former Vice President Al Gore have been approved to hold events in Point State Park, but two other groups that want to set up tent cities there were rejected.

"The message is that, if you are politically influential and powerful, you can enjoy free speech rights at Point State Park. If you're a little edgier or more critical of the administrations, you can't use it."

In Walczak's view, the city's stranglehold on permits for camping doesn't take a very big picture into consideration.

"They can either be, you know, vagrants wandering around town, or you can give them a place where you provide sanitary facilities and bathrooms, and they have access to food. The city has been intransigent in saying, 'No, no, no, no.'"

Pittsburgh officials have cited security concerns, and also are asking some groups for details about the types of sanitary facilities they'd use and how they plan to clean up their campsites after the summit.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA