Volume 78 / Number 10, August 6 - 12, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

John Penley last week protested security searches at movie showings in Tompkins Square Park.

No rerun of security search at Tompkins movie show

By Laurie Mittelmann

A potential confrontation between residents prepared to protest bag searches at a free Tompkins Square Park movie showing turned into a celebration when it became clear that security had been reduced to one guard, present only for emergencies.

“This is a clear victory for the neighborhood, the Fourth Amendment and the Constitution,” declared Pete Dolack, who invited people to come out on Wed., July 30, and refuse to be searched. “This will remain a public park and we will remain vigilant.”

He and his friend Fran Luck had a run-in with security at the previous movie showing, two weeks earlier, asking a guard why they needed to be searched for a private event held in a public space. Dolack and Luck said that they were kicked out because the guard then told them that they had an attitude.

Last Wednesday, about 15 people, responding to what they believed to be injustice, came out and chanted, “The parks belong to the people,” and “Tompkins Square Park is not a private nightclub” by the gate.

Some of them were planning to strip off their clothes, as a way of “helping” security to search them. Others had planned to present confusingly wrapped, odd packages designed to make the searches more difficult.

Moviegoers filed in and received free Vitamin Water drinks from workers for Glaceu, an event sponsor that many criticized for being a corporation owned by the Coca-Cola company.

Neighborhood activist John Penley suggested that the biweekly movie events were an attempt to glamorize the Lower East Side.

“Why in a neighborhood full of filmmakers,” Penley asked, “are the organizers of this film series — who are developers — showing only old Hollywood reruns and not including any local talent, which would make the film series relevant to our neighborhood?”

Josh Boyd, co-founder of the movie series, which is being hosted by the marketing company Downtown Diversified, described himself as “a big activist on civil rights.” He said that by instituting the searches, he and his partners thought they were helping to maintain safety and the laws forbidding open alcohol containers in public spaces.

“Anything could happen,” Boyd said. “We’re in New York City.”

He added that he and his partners were asked by the Parks Department to get security for the event, which attracts hundreds of people, and that the guard who confronted Dolack and Luck was “stupid” and “a false representation” of their group, which only wants to provide a fun evening activity for the neighborhood.

“After last week’s debacle, heck yeah, we called off the search because it was upsetting people,” Boyd said, referring to the incident at the July 16 movie showing.

Cristina DeLuca, a Parks Department spokesperson, said that hiring private security is up to individual groups, but that the department never advises that the guards check bags.

“We were caught off guard when we heard that people were getting searched,” DeLuca said. “That’s intrusive.”

Nick McGlynn, 25, from Brooklyn, has attended every screening of the Tompkins Square Park movie series so far this summer, and said he hasn’t minded the searches.

“I have no idea what they were searching for,” he said. “It could have been drugs, which is illegal anyway.”

But, he added, while sipping alcoholic punch from a clear container, that searches are not effective, anyway.

“It’s not very hardcore,” he said. “If people wanted to get something, they’d just walk over to the fence and have their friends hand it to them.”

Luck walked around the park and asked people stretched out on blankets waiting for the start of the night’s film, “Better Off Dead,” if they would pledge not to open their bags if they were asked to do so later in the summer.

“Rights that are not asserted wither away,” said Jeffrey Rothman, a civil rights lawyer who attended as a legal observer along with the would-be protesters.

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