Cyclists and advocates rain on parade-permit rules
February 7, 2007
By Jefferson Siegel
Last Wednesday, a group of several dozen, including politicians, attorneys and cyclists, braved the cold wind in front of Police Headquarters to voice outrage at the departmentâ€™s revamped parade-permit regulations â€” which will go into effect at this monthâ€™s end.
On Jan. 26, the Police Department announced new regulations requiring any group of 50 or more pedestrians, vehicles or bicycles to obtain a parade permit before gathering. The updated regulations, in their third version, immediately drew fire from civil rights and transportation groups.
Attorney Mark Taylor of Assemble for Rights, which organized the gathering with Timeâ€™s Up! and Transportation Alternatives, didnâ€™t mince words.
â€œThe police passing these rules is an abridgement of our civil liberties,â€ he declared. â€œThese important rules should be determined by the City Council, not by the police commissioner.â€
â€œI say, by whatever means necessary,â€ Councilmember Rosie Mendez said of her intention to alter the new rules. Mendez said if the regulations take effect, â€œI will be out there with my neighbors, with my friends and with my colleagues exercising my First Amendment rights.â€
Mendez called the limit of 50 people â€œarbitraryâ€ and worried that one police officer could cite any group at random for violating the regulation. She added that although a coalition of councilmembers was working on the issue, coming up with a number of people for which a permit could be required was difficult: â€œWe are trying to find consensus with the advocates. We will determine, through law, what that number will be,â€ she said.
Critics believe the new regulations will have a chilling effect on spontaneous rallies and demonstrations, especially now with the swelling antiwar sentiment. Many opponents believe the regulations are specifically targeting the monthly Critical Mass bike ride in Manhattan. Though the rides proceeded unimpeded for years, police began arresting riders during the 2004 Republican National Convention and in subsequent rides, though now mainly just issue tickets to the riders.
â€œFiftyâ€¦50â€¦how arbitrary, how capricious,â€ Brooklyn Councilmember Letitia James told the crowd. â€œThey continue to violate the civil liberties of a peaceful organization,â€ she said of Critical Mass, which she called â€œa peaceful act which joins people together.â€
Describing the cityâ€™s booming economy and resulting traffic problems, James added, â€œAt a time when we really need to consider transportation alternatives, you want to clamp down on our rights.â€
After the new regulations were announced last month, Police spokesperson Paul Browne told The New York Times, â€œSome critics will find fault no matter how reasonably the rules are drawn.â€
â€œVery simply, this new rule presents serious and substantial constitutional, legal, policy and conceptual problems,â€ attorney Norman Siegel said. â€œThe Police Department is attempting to have a â€˜one rule fits all,â€™â€ Siegel added, noting that the new rules, in attempting to control traffic, make no distinction between vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Using reverse logic, Siegel offered that 49 people could freely march down the middle of Fifth Ave. â€œThat makes absolutely no sense,â€ he said of the streets where vehicular traffic should be, adding, â€œThereâ€™s no rational basis for this rule.â€
Many in the crowd called the upcoming March 30 monthly ride â€œCriminal Mass,â€ as it would be the first held after the new regulations take effect. â€œI hope they do not put nets around Union Square,â€ Siegel said of the rideâ€™s starting point, adding that if the City Council does not amend the Administrative Code, the issue would likely end up in court.
City agencies are entitled to create regulations. Those rules can be overturned by law after a hearing and a vote by the City Council. The first set of regulations issued by the police last summer would have required 20 or more bikes or vehicles proceeding together in the street to first obtain a parade permit; 35 or more pedestrians would have been subject to the same rule.
After a public forum decrying the rules at St. Markâ€™s Church in the East Village last August, the police postponed a forum on the issue at One Police Plaza. When the rescheduled hearing took place just after Thanksgiving, over 500 people descended on the headquarters auditorium to voice opposition to the proposed rules. The new rules will take effect on Feb. 25, 30 days after being issued.
Early last year two motor-scooter officers were injured while chasing the Mass in the East Village. Shortly thereafter police began issuing tickets instead of making arrests. During last monthâ€™s ride, 40 cyclists monitored by almost as many police moved throughout the city. Half a dozen cyclists reported receiving tickets for riding without a headlight or for running a red light.