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Protest law headed toward repeal

Miami commissioners show unease with an ordinance aimed at FTAA protesters and will likely repeal it March 11.

Miami commissioners took the first step late Thursday to repeal a stringent ordinance limiting what items protesters can bring to demonstrations.

The ordinance, passed just a week before November's Free Trade of the Americas talks in Miami, had been touted by police as a way to protect the public against violent protests.

But Thursday night, even commissioners admitted the ordinance had one intention.

''We would be kidding ourselves if we said that without the [Free Trade Area of the Americas] this law would have been passed,'' said Commissioner Tomás Regalado, who wants his own ordinance repealed. It will take a second approval vote on March 11 for the ordinance to be rescinded.

Regalado said he was worried that turmoil in Haiti and Venezuela could soon unleash massive protests here. And he worried that if the law remains on the books, it would spawn sweeping arrests.

''We are playing with fire here. This is a city of marches and parades, and we don't need strict, draconian laws,'' Regalado said. ``We don't need to give police too much power.''

The law allows police to arrest demonstrators who carry glass bottles, water balloons, water guns, signs held up by wood sticks and five-gallon plastic buckets.

The intent was to strengthen police power against the thousands of protesters who were converging in downtown for the global talks.

But by invalidating the three-month-old law, critics say commissioners are proving the law was what they feared all along: an attempt to silence anti-globalization activists -- and no one else -- simply because of their message.

But, civil libertarians add, at least commissioners plan to remove a law they call ''ill-conceived'' and ``unconstitutional.''

''Once they put it on the books, they could have left it there,'' said Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, president of the Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. ``But this shows some growth on the part of the commission. I'm pleased to see they are pushing to get rid of this.''

When commissioners approved the ordinance in November, they did so in the face of wide criticism -- and protests -- by civil libertarians and anti-globalization activists who said it was unconstitutional because it clearly singled out a specific group.

Commissioners acknowledged at the time that the law could have major implications on other activities taking place in the city, such as a parade or small demonstration. Anyone holding an innocuous item such as a glass iced tea bottle or thick drum sticks would be in violation of the law and subject to arrest.

No protesters were charged with violating the ordinance during the FTAA talks.

Source: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/8056171.htm