Metro New York
August 18, 2006
EAST VILLAGE — Outrage over the NYPD’s recent proposal for parade permit requirements was palpable last night at a forum convened by civil liberty groups and bicycle advocates at the St. Marks Church. The meeting was called to raise awareness and to encourage people to show up at a public hearing about the changes scheduled by the NYPD.
The new rules would require permits for any group of two or more people using a roadway “in a manner that does not comply with all applicable traffic laws, rules and regulations.” A permit would also be needed for any sidewalk procession of 35 or more people or any roadway procession with 20 or more vehicles or bikes.
So, if a couple of deliverymen cycle together against a red light, they can be cited for parading without a permit. Ditto for two street hockey teams heading for beers after a game. And the Critical Mass bike ride would need to get a permit before meeting up at Union Square and then departing together as they do the last Friday of every month.
“What they’re talking about is radically changing the right to peacefully protest the issues we care about,” Norman Siegel, a lawyer who represents some Critical Mass riders, told the crowd. “From Peter Stuyvesant to even Rudolph Giuliani, New Yorkers have been able to march without a permit on a public sidewalk as long as they did not block pedestrian traffic or exits of buildings.”
Siegel believes the changes were motivated by the Bloomberg administration’s failed attempts to get federal and state courts to require permits for Critical Mass.
“For the last two years, the police have been spending enormous resources — helicopters, police scooters, vans — all to stop Critical Mass,” he said. “In the state court action, the judge, in rejecting the city’s request, suggested that the ‘statute’ involved in the controversy be clarified.”
Siegel, however, believes this is a job for City Council and not the NYPD.
But after Wednesday’s public hearing, the police can alter the rules regardless of the comments made.
Councilman Alan Gerson, D-Manhattan, read the First Amendment to the crowd and suggested people bring a copy of the Bill of Rights to the NYPD hearing next week.
Although the City Council doesn’t have authority over NYPD regulations, Gerson said, “We can pass legislation when we define the few instances where parade permits are required.”
“If the City Council doesn’t take the proper role here, they’ve sold us out on a fundamental issue of our right to protest,” Siegel said. “We don’t lose our civil liberties with a big bang. We lose them incrementally and quietly.”
The NYPD is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed rules at 6 p.m. on Wed., Aug. 23 at One Police Plaza. In their statement of purpose for the new rules, police say they are needed to preserve “order at assemblies that obstruct free passage of public streets and sidewalks.”