Volume 76, Number 14 | August 23 - 29, 2006

Activists geared up to fight new bike, march rules

By Lincoln Anderson

Two hundred people, ranging from Critical Mass bicyclists to civil rights and community activists, turned out at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village last Thursday night for a lively “people’s public forum” on the new parade-permit regulations that were being proposed by the Police Department.

Among the speakers were civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, Councilmembers Rosie Mendez, Alan Gerson and Gale Brewer; U.S. Senate candidate Jonathan Tasini; Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild; antiwar activist Lesley Kagan of United for Peace and Justice; and Reverend Billy, the performance artist preacher. All spoke against the regulation changes.

The following day, the Police Department announced it had called off a scheduled Aug. 23 forum at Police Headquarters on the proposals, and would narrow their scope and resubmit them.

The new regulations would have required two or more pedestrians, bikers or cars proceeding on the street not following traffic laws (for example, not having a bicycle bell) to get a parade permit; 20 or more bikes or vehicles proceeding together in the street to get a permit; and 35 or more pedestrians proceeding together on the sidewalk to get a permit. Without a permit, the participants would be subject to arrest. The department, however, now plans to drop any reference to permits being needed for sidewalk protests.

Noting that “from Peter Stuyvesant to Rudy Giuliani” marching on the sidewalk has never required a permit, Siegel said the rule would be selectively enforced against whomever Mayor Bloomberg considers to be “troublemakers.” “That’s us,” he told the crowd of 200.

The regulations would prohibit spontaneous protests, forcing a delay while waiting for a permit, Siegel added.

Gerson said that in the fall he would introduce legislation to block the proposed regulations. Speaking this Tuesday, Mendez said, now that the regulations have been withdrawn, she thinks it’s unclear if the Council will push ahead with new proactive legislation in the fall.

“If the N.Y.P.D. drops it, I don’t see a problem with the law as it exists now,” Mendez said.

Council Speaker Chris Quinn last Friday said the Council had met with the administration and “expressed our deep concerns about the proposal and its potential to compromise the First Amendment rights of New Yorkers.”

The proposed regulation changes were seen as a response to a state court judge’s recommendation that the city clarify its “statutes” regarding parade permits as they relate to the Critical Mass monthly bike rides.

However, said Mendez, “Justice isn’t easy. The police have to go out there and balance our civil liberties with safety.”

Mendez said every city agency has the power to write its own rules, but that the Council can legislate to change those rules. In this case, she said, it would have been easier to go to court if the regulations had gone into effect, because she felt they were unconstitutional and could be defeated on these grounds.

“To me, the regulations were too sweeping in that it abridged our right to free speech and to assemble under the Constitution,” Mendez said.

In the event the revised permit rules were approved, Kagan called on the activists at St. Mark’s to turn out the next day in “groups of 36” all over the city to protest.

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