The Occupy Movement has brought into focus the conflict between local police and the rights to free speech and freedom of assembly, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
In some cities, the conflict was settled by pepper spray and tear gas. In Palo Alto, we have opened channels of communication with the police.
Paul George of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center reports:
There were some recent hassles with the Palo Alto Police Department over the proper policies about assemblies, which resulted in some extended negotiations between them and PPJC and other local groups. I think we finally have come to an understanding again.
To make a long story short, we have returned to the way things have been done for the past 20+ years, but it took a lot of work to get there.
The plaza in front of Palo Alto City Hall — Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King Plaza — was specifically recognized as a free speech area by the Palo Alto City Council in 1999. Political events held there do not require applications, permits, or fees. The plaza area cannot be ‘reserved’ for exclusive use, but its use cannot be denied by the Palo Alto Police Department.
The PAPD does request notification of events and that is what the attached document is for (Palo Alto Police Assembly Notification Form – DOC file). The form should be submitted as early as is practical to the contact person on the form (who is the Special Operations person for the PAPD).
If you plan to erect or install any kind of structure at the site that weighs more than 250 pounds — such as a stage — you may be required to submit more information or have the structure inspected by Public Works. This is for public safety reasons, as the plaza sits above an underground parking lot.
Peninsula Peace and Justice Center has many years of experience using the plaza for demonstrations and they are willing to offer advice if you should run into any kind of resistance from the PAPD or if you are asked to apply for permits or pay fees. You can contact Paul George at firstname.lastname@example.org or 650-326-8837.”
Palo Alto Police Assembly Notification Form (DOC file)
Sergeant Wayne Benitez, Special Operations, Palo Alto Police Department wrote:
I think we can all agree that the police department fully understands and appreciates the right to public protest, and the rights afforded under the First Amendment. I also want you to know that I look forward to working with you in the future to ensure your events go safely and smoothly for all involved. Please know that the police department will never interfere with the content of the message (e.g. political, ideological or social) your organization might convey, but as you know, we do retain the right to place limits on time, place, and manner or your events.
I am only asking for you to either meet with me, or fill out an Assembly Notification form prior to your event. This will actually assist you in your future events. Once I know about your event, I can schedule the event and ensure there are no scheduling conflicts. For instance, various organizations routinely reserve the Civic Center Plaza or Lytton Plaza for special events. Recently, the Girls Scouts of America reserved the Civic Center Plaza on the evening of March 12th to celebrate their 100th year anniversary. The entire city council was present along with about 600 girl scouts and their parents. I am sure your organization would want to know about such a scheduling conflict and would choose another date. I am just trying to assist you, and your organization, the best I can.