Volume 77, Number 9 | August 01 – 07, 2007
By Jefferson Siegel
Friday’s monthly Critical Mass ride attracted more than just bicyclists. A rally to criticize proposed rules for filming and photographing on the streets of New York drew several hundred people, many wielding cardboard cutouts of movie cameras and an abundance of real cameras.
The hastily arranged gathering was organized in response to rules the city is proposing that would require any group of two or more people filming at one spot for 30 minutes or five or more people using a tripod for at least 10 minutes to first obtain a permit and a sizeable insurance policy.
Most at the rally saw the proposal, quietly introduced at a public hearing in June, as anathema to creativity and a potential tool to stifle dissent. A newly formed group, Picture New York, has already garnered thousands of signatures on a petition opposing the regulations. Major photo agencies, noted photographers and filmmakers are among those signing on to criticize the rule. (The petition is online at http://www.pictureny.org/.)
Beka Economopoulos, one of the rally’s organizers, was succinct in her criticism of the proposed rules: “I already have a permit for my camera,” she declared. “It’s called the First Amendment.”
“This is micromanagement of public space taken to an absurd level,” said Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video in a statement released by the group. “What are the police going to do â€” time people holding cameras? These new rules give the police another excuse to arrest anybody they don’t like with a camera.”
Several in the crowd displayed copies of the Constitution on their shirts, emblazoned with the words “My/Our Permit.” The shirts were a familiar sight at previous rides when cyclists wore them to protest a new police regulation requiring groups of 50 or more to first obtain a permit.
Attorney Norman Siegel suggested city residents’ civil rights were at a crossroads.
“Every once in a while in our lives,” Siegel intoned while standing on a table in front of a mass of video and still cameras, “there comes a time when you have to stand up for what you believe in. The time has come for all New Yorkers to stand up.”
The anti-consumerist performance artist Reverend Billy led the crowd in reciting the 44 words of the First Amendment, his chant backed by the voices of his red-robed Stop Shopping Choir. At last month’s Critical Mass, Reverend Billy was arrested after approaching a group of police commanders and reciting the First Amendment through a white megaphone.
As the rally concluded, a huge American flag, covering at least one-third of Union Square’s north plaza, was unfurled. As people danced to the music of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, some ran under the flag and one photographer even popped out through a hole in the middle for a better shot.
After riding his bike under the flag, cyclist Joseph Merolla, 19, a bike messenger from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., took a ride on top. He was stopped by a police officer, handcuffed and arrested. With blood running down his leg from a cut he received while being grabbed, Merolla and the police were quickly surrounded by the crowd, many chanting the First Amendment. Police commanders consulted with a member of the Police Department’s Legal Department and, minutes later, Merolla was unhandcuffed and released.
As darkness fell, riders left the plaza in small groups, pedaling in different directions. A large group met up at W. Houston St. and the Hudson River, where they proceeded to ride throughout the city into the night.