With hundreds of protesters expected in the streets outside the 2017 National Governors Association Summer Meeting (GovCon2017) the Rhode Island State Police and Providence Police Department have made the decision to corral demonstrators to a “designated area” near the corner of Mathewson Street and Sabin Street. The section of Mathewson St between Fountain and Sabine has been closed to all but pedestrian traffic due to the demolition of the John E Fogarty Memorial Building. The chain link fence surrounding the demolition site extends across the entire street, leaving only a sidewalk width path between the fence and a private parking lot.
Facing the Rhode Island Convention Center, to the right of Mathewson Street, are a bunch of metal barriers, as seen in the pictures:
Will this space be big enough for the demonstrators? With luck, what Rhode Island State Police Director of Public Information Laura Meade Kirk called a “designated area for demonstrators” will hold about five hundred people in conditions only marginally better than those available to chickens under Rhode Island State Law.
This is a free speech zone.
In this piece from 2004, James Bovard of SFGate writes:
“When President [George W] Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up ‘free speech zones’ or ‘protest zones,’ where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of media covering the event.”
Given that Vice President Michael Pence and other visiting dignitaries will be shuttled into the Convention Center through backdoor and side entrances, the intent here seems to protect the delicate sensibilities of attendees from disturbance more than to protect their safety or the First Amendment protected rights of protesters.
Here are photos of the situation at Sabine and Mathewson,