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Compelling interest

City rejects ACLU challenge to NATO security zone

Protesters rally against NATO and the U.S. war in Iraq on Tuesday.
  • Protesters rally against NATO and the U.S. war in Iraq on Tuesday.

The Colorado Springs Police Department is again drawing fire from a civil-liberties group over its handling of political demonstrations.

Acting on behalf of a local peace organization, the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union last week challenged a "security zone" being established for this week's summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at The Broadmoor hotel. The zone, extending two blocks in all directions from the resort, was designed in part to keep protesters away from the military alliance's conference.

Calling the security measure "a draconian suppression of the constitutional right of expression," the ACLU asked that six members of the local organization Citizens for Peace in Space be allowed to demonstrate directly outside The Broadmoor, where defense ministers from 26 nations are gathering.

While it's important to provide security for the summit, "The current plans for what has been called a 'security zone' prohibit far more expression than is necessary," wrote Mark Silverstein, legal director of the Colorado ACLU, in a letter to the city.

Silverstein noted that similar security zones have been ruled unconstitutional elsewhere. In 2000, a judge ruled that attempts to keep protesters away from the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles violated the First Amendment.

Government jeopardized'

The city of Colorado Springs, however, rejected the ACLU's request. In a written response, Lori Miskel of the city attorney's office argued that allowing demonstrators inside the security zone "would seriously jeopardize the government's ability to maintain the security of The Broadmoor hotel, thus imperiling all persons within the zone."

Miskel did not respond to phone calls seeking an explanation of her position. However, in her response to the ACLU, she argued that "in the face of a compelling state interest, the government can impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on expressive activities."

Rapid response force

The NATO defense ministers are meeting this week to discuss reshaping the alliance, which was originally formed in 1949 to defend Western Europe against a hypothetical attack by the Soviet Union. Among the items being discussed is the formation of a "rapid response" force that could be quickly deployed to conflict areas around the globe.

Local peace activists, however, argue that the alliance has become obsolete since the Cold War ended. They are concerned that the alliance, once purely defensive, will turn into a tool of U.S. aggression abroad.

Barred from the security zone, a crowd of about 100 activists lined up with signs and banners Tuesday afternoon along Lake Avenue, the main road leading to The Broadmoor.

Bill Sulzman, director of Citizens for Peace in Space, said he would not rule out suing the city over the security measures.

"That is an open option," he said.

Springs police previously came under scrutiny by the ACLU when it was revealed last year that officers had spied on protesters and reported their identities to the Denver Police Department as well as an FBI anti-terrorism task force. In February, local police tear-gassed activists demonstrating against the impending U.S invasion of Iraq.

-- Terje Langeland

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