New London tightens park permit rules ahead of Trump visit
New London — Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, the organizer of a flag-waving, Trump-welcoming rally planned for the president’s visit to the city on May 17, calls the city’s delay in issuing a permit for exclusive use of a city park a violation of her First Amendment rights.
But acting Police Chief Peter Reichard said Tuesday that the city still is developing its security protocol in anticipation of record crowds and demonstrations for President Donald Trump’s appearance at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation.
Until police have consulted with the U.S. Secret Service, Reichard said no permits will be issued to any group. In the meantime, Reichard said, all permit applications will be submitted to the police department for consideration and vetting.
“We’re trying to accommodate everybody,” Reichard said. “There are a limited number of areas where we can put people. We have a job to do ... to protect not just dignitaries but everybody else that shows up. We’re erring on the side of caution.”
Hopkins-Cavanagh said her main gripe is that she applied for the permit for the little-known and even less used McKinley Park off Williams Street last week.
She anticipated the permit would be issued on a first-come, first-served basis, as is typical in the city. It was planned as a peaceful family event in contrast to the expected protests, she said.
“We’re having an event with speakers and old and young, places to set up lawn chairs and put up banners, hold flags,” she said.
Instead, she anticipates the city will try and “cram everybody together,” including a “bunch of rowdy thugs,” that will all but assure the gathering does not take place.
“They’re creating a situation that will be less safe. People will avoid going, if that’s the case. This permit policy was never in place before I submitted my permit. I should be treated like everyone else,” Hopkins-Cavanagh said. “By keeping people away, they are squelching free speech. There are so many radical left-wing progressives in this area ... and our little group can’t have a peacefully assembled event.”
Permit applications for use of city venues usually are submitted to either the Office of Planning and Development or the Parks and Recreation Commission, depending on the location. Permitting fees and insurance may be required, depending on the event. The police department normally gets involved only to issue permits for use of amplified sound, such as a loudspeaker or music.
“This is different,” Reichard said. “It’s a change in protocol because it’s a different situation. We know we’ll have a lot of protesters in town."
Granting one group exclusive rights to the city’s closest park to the Coast Guard Academy is unlikely, he admitted.
Reichard said decisions on what areas will be off-limits for the Trump visit will have nothing to do with a group's pro- or anti-Trump leanings. He said the recommendations of the Secret Service will help guide the decisions.
Hopkins-Cavanagh said rules for permitting should not have changed for this one event.
“Since I am the only permit that has been filed in the past two weeks, it is clearly a change aimed at my conservative, Trump-supporting group of citizens,” she wrote in a letter to Reichard.
Hopkins-Cavanagh is a local real estate agent, political commentator and radio talk show host who founded the American Liberty Center.
Since she applied for a permit, at least one other group has followed suit.
All Souls Unitarian Universalist Pastor Carolyn Patierno said a coalition of 15 grass-roots organizations calling itself Unify and Resist Coalition has applied for use of both McKinley Park and the Parade downtown.
The group’s overall message, Patierno said, is “the value we hold in this community is one of welcome, one of peace and hope.”
She said there are many policies being proposed by the Trump administration that are “contrary to all of those things.”
Patierno said the groups also will be out to show respect to and honor Coast Guard graduates and their families.
She anticipates the gathering will include members of an All Souls anti-racist group, the New England War Resistors League, Start Fresh, Action Together Connecticut New London County, Rise Up Mystic, St. Francis House, ACLU People Power Effort, New London Liberal Think Tank, the Southeastern Connecticut Federation of Democratic Women, Out CT and All Souls.
“We’re going forward under the hopeful assumption we will be granted these permits,” Patierno said. “We’re doing our best to organize a peaceful, nonviolent demonstration.”
Reichard said the department plans to issue public information and further guidance to visitors and demonstrators in the days before Trump arrives.
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