NYCLU and CCR Urge New York Judge to Allow Peaceful Protest in Central Park During the Republican National Convention

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
August 24, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–Attorneys for the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights today argued before the New York State Supreme Court that the city should open Central Park for a peaceful protest by United for Peace and Justice on August 29, the eve of the Republican National Convention. The lawyers told Judge Jacqueline Silberman that New York City is applying rules about political protest that appear nowhere in Parks Department regulations and are not available to the general public.

Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU, argued that the city has not presented a workable alternative to a gathering on the Great Lawn of Central Park and outright rejected a number of proposals from the peace group for a rally site. United for Peace and Justice has a permit to march past Madison Square Garden along 7th Avenue, but has been offered a long stretch of the West Side Highway as the only alternative for a post-march rally.

Leslie Cagan, National Coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, and Elizabeth Smith, Chief of Marketing and Corporate Sponsorship of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, testified at today’s hearing.

Cagan said that the West Side Highway is a “uniquely bad location” for a rally, noting that it is divided by a median that obstructs site lines, that it is not shaded, and that outfitting it with a sound system would be prohibitively expensive (over $631,000).

Cagan also testified that even though United for Peace and Justice at one point agreed to use the West Side Highway as a rally location, the group had “raised these problems from day one.”

Jeff Fogel, Legal Director of CCR, cross-examined Smith about the Parks Department’s rules and regulations on the types of events that can take place in Central Park. Smith admitted that the Parks Department has “co-sponsorship” deals with selective organizations in the city, including the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, and that it reserves two event spots for each of those organizations each year without requesting bonds for possible damage.

The city’s Corporation Counsel admitted that the West Street location has drawbacks. “No one is saying the West Side Highway is ideal,” the city’s lead counsel said in his opening remarks. “It’s not a coliseum.”

The NYCLU’s Dunn noted that the UFPJ case is different from the case in which Judge William H. Pauley III ruled yesterday. He pointed out that the rally in question in that lawsuit is much smaller and could therefore take place in locations other than the park, whereas the UFPJ rally is large enough that Central Park is the only viable option.

A ruling by Judge Silberman is expected tomorrow.

For more information on the NYCLU’s efforts to protect free speech rights during the convention, go to www.rncprotestrights.org

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