Republican National Convention sets downtown Milwaukee security perimeter

Protest groups say the plan is too restrictive

an empty table at a restaurant is located near the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee
The Fiserv Forum was supposed to be the site of this year’s Democratic National Convention. Angela Major/WPR

Protesters at the Republican National Convention will have two demonstration zones during the event in Milwaukee next month, but they won’t be where they were hoping.

The U.S. Secret Service, city government and the Milwaukee Police Department released the final traffic plan and security map on Friday for the July 15-18 national nominating convention.

The Secret Service and dozens of other agencies have been working on safety and traffic plans since November for the event that is expected to bring tens of thousands of people and law enforcement officials to the city.

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“The goal of the U.S. Secret Service and our partners is to ensure a safe and secure environment, while minimizing impact to the public,” said Audrey Gibson-Cicchino, the U.S. Secret Service’s 2024 RNC Coordinator. “We understand that security for an event this size will have an impact on the city, and we appreciate residents’ patience and understanding as we work to keep convention attendees, volunteers and the public safe during this event.”

Temporary road closures will be in effect intermittently beginning July 11. Official closures will begin at 6 p.m. July 14 and run through approximately July 19.

The “Pedestrian Restricted Perimeter” is bordered by West McKinley Avenue on the north to West Wisconsin Avenue on the south. It stretches past North James Lovell Street on the west and encompasses the much debated Pere Marquette Park on the east.

The designated protest zones will be at Zeidler Union Square and MLK Drive. 

Pere Marquette Park controversy 

Republicans pushed to include Pere Marquette Park in the security zone to put more distance between protesters and convention attendees.

In May, RNC attorney Todd Steggerda sent a letter to the director of the Secret Service calling on the agency to move the security perimeter to encapsulate Pere Marquette Park. 

Steggerda said if that doesn’t happen, the current plan will “heighten — rather than obviate or diffuse — tensions and confrontation, creating an increased and untenable risk of violence.”

On Friday, Gibson-Cicchino said Pere Marquette was included in the security perimeter because the RNC rented the Milwaukee County Historical Society, adjacent to the park.

ACLU lawsuit unresolved 

The ACLU of Wisconsin sued the City of Milwaukee earlier this month for restricting the First Amendment rights of those seeking to protest during the RNC.

After the traffic and safety plan announcement Friday, Tim Muth, staff attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin, said the organization was “surprised and disappointed” to see how many blocks of downtown Milwaukee the Secret Service has declared off limits to anyone but convention attendees. 

“The large size of this zone makes it more critical than ever that the city take steps to allow for effective opportunities for expression and assembly by those with differing viewpoints,” Muth said in a statement.

“The ACLU and the Coalition to March attempted to mediate our differences with the city, but the divide was too great to bridge so we will proceed with our case in federal court in Milwaukee. We hope for a swift ruling that will vindicate the Coalition’s plan for a march that passes within sight and sound of Fiserv Forum.”

Nick DeSiato, chief of staff for Mayor Cavalier Johnson, said he believes protesters have been provided “premier access” on the north and south side of the convention.

“I would challenge anyone to find a place closer to there, with site lines looking directly at Fiserv forum,” DeSiato said. “Our responsibility is to create sight and sound options and create one that has not just the premier access, but also security surrounding it.”

Guns allowed in parts of RNC perimeter, restricted in others

The Secret Service will not allow weapons within the Pedestrian Restricted Perimeter, or the inner perimeter of the RNC.

But people will be able to carry guns openly or concealed under Wisconsin state law within the “Vehicle Screening Perimeter,” or the outer boundary.

Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman said it is up to the public to monitor their behavior. 

“So, understand that there is going to be that level of surveillance and monitoring that that’s the particular right that you like to express,” Norman said. “Just don’t do anything that could be considered a threat or harm to the public.”

Restricted areas during the convention

The Pedestrian Restricted Perimeter will be accessible only to credentialed or ticketed individuals, such as convention attendees or volunteers.

Residences and businesses located inside the Vehicle Screening Perimeter will be accessible to the public. Pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to freely enter the perimeter from any area.

Maritime restrictions will be in place on both the Milwaukee River and the waters surrounding Henry Maier Festival Park and Lake Shore Park.