Saying that the City of Providence’s tactics could “chill some individuals from engaging in peaceful protest activities,” the RI ACLU sent a letter today to Providence Mayor David Cicilline asking him to remove from the City’s website a “protester registration form” and “public viewing guidelines” in anticipation of expected protests during the U.S. Conference of Mayors being held downtown this weekend.
Here are some excerpts from the RI ACLU letter:
“The city has no right to demand that individuals ‘register’ in order to exercise their fundamental right to protest in public. Indeed, the very notion of a city-produced ‘protester registration form’ is itself extremely troubling. It is for that reason that we assume your director of Emergency Management has been quoted in the press as acknowledging that completion of the ‘protester registration’ form is totally voluntary. Although that may be so, many people might not realize it. Thus, individuals viewing the form and not wishing to share their name or other personal information with the City as a condition of petitioning their government could easily be deterred from exercising their First Amendment rights this weekend.
“If the purpose of the form is to obtain an idea of crowd size, why even try to seek registration information from individuals as opposed to the organizations expected to be planning protests? The potential chilling effect is obvious.
“[Regarding the public viewing guidelines], we find especially troubling the provision stating that bags and backpacks of individual protesters will be subject to search. We can think of no authority for such an intrusion on the privacy of individuals who are present in an open public area. Like the registration form, this pronouncement could chill some individuals from engaging in peaceful protest activities. While the City obviously has the authority to take appropriate security measures, deciding to search someone based on whether he or she is viewed as a protester or a mere passer-by is not one of them.”
The letter also called “confusing” another document specifying “public viewing areas” during the time of the conference. The letter concluded by saying: “In light of all the questions and confusion that these documents have generated, we urge that you have them removed from the City’s website, and that you formally clarify their status to assuage the legitimate concerns that have arisen since these forms were publicized two days ago.”