Thursday, June 17, 2004

Freedom to Assemble

NYC Withholding Protest Permits for GOP Convention

REUTERS - New York officials are threatening the rights of demonstrators planning to show up at the Republican National Convention by failing to issue a single permit so far, a protest leader said on Tuesday. Leslie Cagan of protest group United for Peace and Justice said the group applied for a permit more than a year ago but has not yet been granted permission. The city "has yet to do anything in terms of issuing permits guaranteeing not only that we are able to protest but, more importantly, that we are able to exercise our constitutionally protected right to assemble, to march, to rally, to make our voices heard," Cagan said...

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said protesters had failed to engage in serious talks about making arrangements with officials. Browne said police were concerned "that al Qaeda may want to use a large political event as a target as they did in Madrid ... as a way of infiltrating a political climate and the outcome of the election."

Things Aren't Much Better in Boston

- Just six weeks before the Democratic National Convention, civil rights groups are threatening to sue the city of Boston because a "free-speech zone" near the Fleet Center remains piled high with twisted steel and hunks of Big Dig concrete, no protest groups have received demonstration permits, and the city is enforcing its rule against afternoon marches.

The threats of legal action followed a meeting yesterday between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union and National Lawyers Guild, where activists were told of a Boston ordinance that bans marches from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Those are hours when evening commuter traffic is heaviest. But the civil rights groups complain that the rule effectively bars them from parading in streets when delegates will be arriving at the Fleet Center for convention activities.


NEW SCIENTIST - Weapons that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like beam of electricity across them are being readied for sale to military and police forces in the US and Europe. At present, commercial stun guns target one person at a time, and work only at close quarters. The new breed of non-lethal weapons can be used on many people at once and operate over far greater distances...

The advent of wireless stun weapons has horrified human rights groups. Robin Coupland of the Red Cross says they risk becoming a new instrument of torture. And Brian Wood of Amnesty International says the long-range stun guns could "inflict pain and other suffering on innocent bystanders.”

CHUCK McCUTCHEON, NEWHOUSE NEWS SERVICE - With such weapons, police could incapacitate criminals with a ray gun that scalds the flesh but causes no permanent harm. Officers could shine flashlights with blinding green beams. Riots could be halted using stink bombs releasing overpoweringly nauseating smells or noise machines emitting piercing high-decibel shrieks...

[Sid] Heal, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department commander who acts as an adviser to many other police forces, said one military project with considerable police potential is the Active Denial System, a Humvee-mounted ray gun that Raytheon Co. is expected to publicly unveil this fall. Scientists at the Air Force Research Laboratory working with Raytheon developed the $51 million device, which shoots a narrow beam of electromagnetic energy at the speed of light, quickly and painfully heating a target's skin but leaving no burn marks or permanent injury.

"You can't concentrate on trying to get out of the beam, because it hurts so badly," said Rich Garcia, a laboratory spokesman in Albuquerque, N.M., who was among the test subjects. "My hair felt like it was on fire. I was in there for two seconds; nobody's been able to exceed three."


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