Civil Rights Obstructed by Stalled Permit Distribution


Jackie De Melo, Opinion Managing Editor

President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration formed into reality Friday, Jan. 20. In the weeks leading up to the event, there had been ongoing debate over whether or not national land should be used for Trump’s inauguration committee or a variety of protest groups. The politics of it were up in the air.
Trump’s inauguration brought about a notorious number of groups who were zealous to protest including Black Lives Matter, the ANSWER coalition and more. A debate presented itself over whether or not groups would be allowed to attain permits granting them the right to protest on various locations across the White House and the National Mall. The permits are known as First Amendment permits and grant the right of the demonstrators holding the permit to hold a venue, give speeches and more.
This particular election cycle saw an increase in the number of people vouching to attain permits. Clearly this election drew a greater demand for protest permits than President Obama’s; his inauguration brought about six secured permits while Trump’s reeled in a solid 30.
I firmly believed that the outskirts of the White House and the National Mall should have been used for protesters since there was a large amount of groups this year vouching to attain land. During the inauguration, the streets of D.C. proved not to be enough as a crowd of protesters attempted to infiltrate the National Mall grounds.
“I do believe the land should have been used [for protesters] because the National Mall is a historical location to hold such important and controversial protests,” freshman Lizzie Weir said.
Historically, protests have been held at the National Mall and I was convinced that at least a portion of this land would be used for protests. Much to my dismay, the National Park did not take any history into account and resolved to ban protests from occurring on this land during the inauguration.
The park service did not stop there as they delayed permit distribution for demonstrations across landmarks and the streets of D.C.. What the service brought in was full-fledged irony; they claimed that issuing permits was not a political decision, but rather on a first-come first-serve basis. However, their indecision to give out permits until late notice to protest groups proved their lean toward Trump’s inauguration committee.
If permit distribution was not shadowed by politics, what held back the park service from giving out permits to organizations besides Trump’s inaugural committee? The answer is more complex than it seems to be, however the undeniable fact is that politics play a definite role in everything that occurs within the U.S..
“In a normal election cycle, we’ll see four or five First Amendment permits,” spokesman of the National Park Service Michael Litterst said in a New York Times interview.
The only problem here is that none of the 30 requested permits had been even close to secured the week before the inauguration. Instead, the service only granted permits to the groups vouching for them on Tuesday, Jan. 17, a meager three days before the inauguration.
The National Park Service announced the location of the protests on their site but neglected to include whether the National Mall and the outskirts of the White House could be used for protesting. With an election far more controversial than ones in the past and including a greater demand for protest permits, restricting land only brought about further unnecessary conflict.
The lack of communication between Trump’s inauguration committee and the National Park Service just stalled a long overdue decision. A settlement could have been decided weeks in advance, if not a month. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the executive director and litigator for the Partnership of Civil Justice Fund had been vouching for the First Amendment rights of the protestors since Trump’s election.
“[Permits were] being put off which completely obstructs the ability to organize, to make plans to come, disruptive [sic] and violating people’s free speech rights,” Verheyden-Hilliard said in a Fox 5 interview in December 2016.
How long will free speech continue to be hindered in a country prided upon freedom and liberty? The answer is as long as the government continues to ignore the outcry of their own people until the very last minute.