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ACLU Forum Focuses on First Amendment Rights at GOP Convention


A forum on knowing your rights when it comes to demonstrating during the upcoming Republican National Convention was held Tuesday night at the University of Tampa. Audience members heard there be a fine line between what police will tolerate - and what they won't.

The forum was the third in a series of public rights debates held by the Florida chapter of the ACLU.  Tampa assistant police chief John Bennett has been spearheading much of the department's plans for dealing with the crush of protesters expected for the convention.  He says the department has been training extensively.

"The duty and responsibility to protect the public - regardless of someone's opinion of that - is geared around trying to keep people safe from violent behavior and property destruction," Bennett said. "Everything else is going to be geared toward a lot of discretion, a lot of communication."

ACLU Florida president Mike Pheneger of Tampa says it's critical police differentiate between protestors who come to town to cause trouble - and those who come to express their First Amendment rights.

"It's going to be very important to differentiate between two kinds of demonstrators," Pheneger says, "those that come to town to cause trouble, and those that come to town to have a say."

Bennett told the crowd that the city is aiming to keep the number of arrests well below that of the last Republican convention, in St. Paul.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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