A federal judge walked under coils of razor wire and black netting yesterday for a firsthand look at a “free speech” protest zone near next week’s Boston Democratic National Convention site that prompted a lawsuit from activists who liken the space to a prison. U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock inspected the 28,000-square-foot area under abandoned elevated tracks and raised questions, including whether the area could safely contain protesters with only two exits. “Are there any state building code requirements about the number of exits for a space for 4,000 people?” he asked. Police Superintendent Robert Dunford and Boston police legal adviser Mary Jo Harris, who has guided many of Boston’s preparations for next week’s Democratic National Convention, promised to get an answer.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild have filed lawsuits against the city challenging the protest zone and a parade route. The judge is holding a hearing today on the protest zone. Yesterday, Woodlock asked pointed questions inside the enclosed protest zone, which is located under downward-sloping tracks and is filled with obstructions, including crisscross green metal girders and a horizontal beam 5-feet, 9 inches off the ground.