New York Times
July 19, 2006
Link to article (Times Select needed)
The Police Department wants to require parade permits for bicyclists traveling in groups of 20 or more, and any bicyclists or walkers who take to the streets in groups of two or more and disobey traffic laws for things like parades, races or protests, according to a public notice filed with the city.
The department also wants to require a parade permit for groups of 35 or more protesters who restrict themselves to the sidewalk, officially clarifying a regulation that court rulings described as too vague, according to a police spokesman.
Taken together, the three new rules — which the department will discuss at a public hearing on Aug. 23, at 6 p.m. at police headquarters — would redefine the type of protest and the number of protesters allowed to demonstrate in New York City without first applying for approval from the Police Department.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the new rules, if adopted, would “threaten to substantially restrict protests.”
Other critics of the department have questioned whether the police are authorized to make such changes without approval from the City Council, but Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said the police commissioner had the authority under the City Charter to amend regulations concerning public safety.
Mr. Browne said that after recent court rulings found the department’s parade regulations too vague, the department moved to clarify them with these amendments. As a practical matter, he said, the department always believed it had the authority to make arrests under the existing regulations and often did.
“A permit effectively allows activities that would otherwise be illegal, such as disregarding traffic signals or blocking pedestrian traffic, to go forward with the police making accommodations such as the rerouting of pedestrian or vehicular traffic,” Mr. Browne said. “Nothing in the amendments changes the penalties.”
In its notice, the department said the rules were necessary for public safety. “These amendments are intended to clarify the circumstances under which groups using city streets or sidewalks for purposes of assembly are required to obtain a permit,” the notice said.
“By clarifying the type of activity that constitutes a parade and is thus required to obtain a permit,” the notice said, “these rules are designed to protect the health and safety of participants in group events on the public streets and sidewalks and members of the public who find themselves in the vicinity of these events.”
Advocates for bicyclists and others said the two new rules for bicyclists appeared to stem from the department’s and the city’s continuing dispute with bicyclists over monthly Critical Mass rides around Manhattan. The rides are held on the last Friday evening of each month to advocate nonpolluting forms of transportation.
In the case of requiring two or more bicyclists or walkers to get a permit, the department is simply trying to prevent participants in public protests like Critical Mass from blocking traffic. Under the changed rules, the police would control traffic, as they do in customary parades. On Feb. 14, a judge suggested that the city consider changing its rules for what constitutes a parade or procession, a lawyer for the group, Norman Siegel, said yesterday. That case is still pending, Mr. Siegel said.
Mr. Siegel questioned whether the department had the authority to change the definitions of when a parade permit is needed.
“My instinctive reaction is he cannot do this, it has to go to the City Council,” Mr. Siegel said, referring to Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.
Mr. Browne said the commissioner’s powers were clear. Notably, during the Republican National Convention in 2004, the police spontaneously allowed some protests to go ahead, on sidewalks or in the streets, even without march permits.
Mr. Siegel said that even if the police had the authority to change the rules, “it’s antithetical to the principles and values of the right to protest that New York is associated with. This is simply unacceptable.”
Some officials, including Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., said the police seemed to be within guidelines in amending the rules, which he said were considered part of internal rules the department can change, rather than administrative codes written by lawmakers.
In the court case, the city is claiming that bicyclists who ride together need a permit, while defendants say they encourage riders to ride together in small groups for safety, “until the city creates a safe bicycling infrastructure,” said Bill DiPaola, the director of Time’s Up, a nonprofit environmental group in the city.
In a previous case, Judge William H. Pauley III of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled that bicyclists did not need a permit to ride in groups, said Mr. DiPaola, whose group provides legal support for Critical Mass participants.