TAMPA — With thousands of demonstrators expected to converge on the Republican National Convention in August, the American Civil Liberties Union is holding a "Know Your Rights" forum focused on the protesters and the journalists who will cover them.
The forum, free and open to the public, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 3 at Stetson University College of Law in Tampa. It will feature a panel discussion with:
• Tampa City Attorney Jim Shimberg Jr.
• Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt.
• Stetson associate professor of law Louis Virelli.
• Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.
• Ellyn Angelotti, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute, the nonprofit journalism school that owns the Tampa Bay Times.
Scheduled for Aug. 27-30, the convention is expected to draw up to 15,000 journalists from around the world and perhaps an equal number of demonstrators.
With the world watching what happens inside and outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the ACLU said it organized the event to address what First Amendment rights protesters, photographers and reporters will have, as well as what the city and police will do to protect those rights.
"We've been having a lot of private dialogue, but I think it's important to start having a more public dialogue about what people's rights are," said forum moderator John Dingfelder, the senior staff attorney for the mid-Florida office of the ACLU.
For example, one question where technology is forcing the issue at these kinds of big, often confrontational events is, who is a journalist?
"Previously, you kind of had a clear definition of who's in the press and who's not," Dingfelder said Tuesday. "Now I think it's becoming more and more blurred on the street when you have bloggers and self-professed members of the press, and plus everybody with a cell phone is now a videographer."
The forum will take place around the time Tampa officials are looking to make recommendations on what city ordinances to revise for the convention.
City officials have said, for example, they will need to update Tampa's special event permit process to accommodate protesters, many likely to show up with little notice.
Currently, groups must apply for a special event permit whenever they plan to bring 200 or more people to a park or public right-of-way. They also must apply 60 to 90 days in advance, buy at least $1 million in liability insurance and pay for city services such as traffic control and trash cleanup.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he wants to bring the proposed changes to the City Council soon.
"I don't want to be doing this in July," he said last week. "I want to get it done now so everyone knows exactly what the rules are."
As of Monday, two groups had applied for parade permits for the convention. Both are organized labor groups looking to hold parades of 500 and 5,000 people, respectively.
Shimberg has said the city is considering ordinances that could be in place during the convention, and maybe a little before and after the event.
Like other cities that have hosted conventions, Tampa is looking at prohibiting demonstrators from carrying materials that could be used as weapons. It also is considering creating a parade route and a "First Amendment zone" for demonstrators.