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Are 'tea party' rallies given preferential treatment by police?

The constitutionality of protest rules was called into question after a tea party rally was allowed full-size flag poles and signs on wooden sticks, which antiwar protesters are often barred from using.

By Staff writer / April 19, 2010

People gather for a Tea Party protest on the grounds of the State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday.

Robert Willett/AP

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"Tea party" activists successfully lobbied security officials in Raleigh, N.C., last Thursday to reverse a ban on carrying full-sized flagpoles and signs at a tax day rally. Antiwar protesters, however, argue that they're often not afforded such luxuries.

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Do tea party activists get preferential treatment from law enforcement officials? They have been able to carry guns to anti-Obama rallies, critics note, suggesting that there is a double standard.

Parade permitting rules vary widely from town to town and city to city, with the Supreme Court giving law enforcement broad authority to uphold public safety.

To be sure, permitting rules and police preparedness are often developed based on past behavior at various kinds of protests. Many go back to the 1960s and 1970s when violent rallies erupted over the Vietnam War. Such protests sprung up again during the presidency of George W. Bush, when protesters clashed with police in New York City and elsewhere during large-scale demonstrations against the Middle East wars. With tea party rallies so far proving more orderly, police have given them more latitude.

For the most part, application of those rules doesn't infringe on the constitutional right to free speech, says Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh, who has organized both antiwar protests and tea party protests and is now running for Congress in New Mexico's Third district.

That doesn't mean the complaint about different treatment for different ralliers is off-base, however. The more loosely such permitting restrictions are written, the more bias can – and does – seep into the approval process, says Mr. Kokesh.

"Certainly antiwar protests are on the whole more rambunctious than tea party rallies, so there is an appropriate role for law enforcement to exercise a certain amount of discretion in how they approach protesters," says Kokesh. "But there are times when regulation or individual action by law enforcement crosses the line and there's a blatant show of favoritism."

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