Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bush protesters allowed on South Side Bridge

Bush protesters allowed on South Side Bridge tonight
By Matthew Thompson / Charleston Daily Mail

CHARLESTON, WV -- Protesters will be allowed to line the South Side Bridge as President Bush's motorcade passes tonight, even though the bridge will be closed twice to automotive traffic.

The bridge sidewalk will be the location of protesters from West Virginia Patriots for Peace, a local anti-war group.

The group is planning to protest Bush's visit to a campaign fundraiser for Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. The president will cross the bridge while traveling to the benefit being held at the Loudon Heights Road home of Mary and Drew Payne.

The bridge will be closed to cars when the Bush's motorcade goes to and from the residence.

Pedestrians may use the bridge -- with one restriction.

Protesters will not be allowed to stand directly above Kanawha Boulevard, looking down from the bridge.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said that was a decision made by his office and the Charleston Police Department's traffic division.

"It was going to be closed to pedestrian traffic," Jones said. "But we allowed it as long as they weren't on that part of the bridge."

About 100 police officers from the city, State Police, Division of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard will be helping with security for the motorcade.

Carrie Swing, president of Patriots for Peace, said the restriction is still enough for room for the group to display its "Wall of Remembrance." The wall is a series of plastic panels containing names of the more than 2,500 soldiers who have died in the Iraq War.

The series of 8-foot long panels each contain 81 hand-written names.

The wall stretches almost the entire length of a football field, Swing said.

"That restriction will not hamper us," Swing said. "We are pleased with the arrangements."

More than 300 members of the group will gather with the wall beginning at 4 p.m. The fundraiser is expected to begin at 6 p.m.

The group plans to have legal representation to make sure their free speech will not be obstructed.

Some Charleston City Council members agreed early today that the restrictions are adequate for the protesters.

"In closing the bridge, they'll still have a safe place, and the visibility is clear for the president," said Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis. "I think it's a smart idea. When you're on a bridge, you can see everyone who's there and what their concerns are. It's better than being on the street."

Councilman Charlie Loeb said Patriots for Peace have a right to protest peacefully.

Mayor Jones said the city plans to charge the Capito campaign for any overtime costs accrued by the police department for Bush's visit.

Some off-duty officers are being called to work tonight. An hour of overtime for police costs around $30, Jones said.

Capito spokesman Joe Jarabek said the campaign has agreed to pay for any "appropriate overtime charges."

Staff writer Jake Stump contributed to this story.