Protests That Boomerang

Balancing the right to protest with the need to protect the public has never been more difficult - or necessary - for government officials and event organizers.

The latest example: The Latin Grammy Awards were yanked out of Miami on Monday, after police there wouldn't meet a demand by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for a large security zone to keep planned anti-Castro protests at a distance.

Many of today's big demonstrations are no longer just vocal ventings. Rather, militant activists use the cover of peaceful protests to violently disrupt an event, or even a whole city. That has mostly occurred at international meetings of late, such as last month's G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy. (Some of that violence was police-initiated.)

Now, any city hosting such events must think twice about inviting a possible sequel to Genoa.

Italy is looking for ways to move the next meeting of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization out of Rome; it may ask NATO to cancel a meeting of defense ministers in Naples. Washington is bracing for next month's meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. City officials and "antiglobalization" protesters are already clashing over the safety measures being planned. Police are considering closing off large sections of the city, including barricading the White House and closing many streets, at a staggering estimated cost of $30 million.

Is all this just a fad that will fade as militants realize their tactics only hurt their causes? Perhaps. In the meantime, large cities must learn how to deal with some complex issues.

Protesters argue that their civil rights are impinged upon by tough security. But the pattern of violent actions on the part of some demonstrators justifies such measures. Even the most well-meaning protest organizer cannot guarantee a peaceful demonstration when thousands of people are involved.

Still, those charged with security should be mindful of civil rights, and work hard to maintain them. Millions of moms, African-American men, and Promise Keepers have proved in recent memory that large numbers can peacefully assemble.

Those who would thwart a peaceful assembly of officials only erode public support for the right of assembly for all.

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