NYCLU to Rochester Mayor: Unconstitutional Ordinances Infringe on Right to Protest

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
November 7, 2011 3:27 pm

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City ordinances being used to restrict Occupy Rochester demonstrations in Washington Square Park are unconstitutional, infringe on protestors’ right to protest and should not be enforced, the New York Civil Liberties Union argued today in a letter to Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards.

“The city’s crackdown on Occupy Rochester demonstrations shows a disturbing disregard for the constitutionally protected right to protest,” said KaeLyn Rich, director of the NYCLU’s Genesee Valley Chapter. “Mayor Richards must use his authority to accommodate peaceful protest and stop enforcing local ordinances that violate people’s First Amendment rights.”

Although the Occupy Rochester protestors have remained peaceful, in recent weeks more than 50 people have been arrested and charged with trespassing and violating a city ordinance setting park hours. The ordinance is unconstitutional because it gives the city’s Commissioner of Recreation and Youth Services unbridled discretion to decide whether to keep the park opened or closed after normal operating hours. Federal courts have issued temporary restraining orders barring the enforcement of similar ordinances in Nashville and Cincinnati in connection with Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

The NYCLU’s letter also expresses concerns about recent reports that Rochester Police Department officers have demanded that protestors at Washington Square Park “keep the signs to a minimal.” This demand appears to be a reference to a city ordinance requiring people to obtain permits to display signs or banners in public parks. This ordinance is overbroad and unconstitutionally burdens speech in public spaces.

“The First Amendment sets the floor, not the ceiling, for free expression,” Rich said. “We hope that city officials will embrace free speech and stop enforcing these unconstitutional ordinances. If they choose not to, we are confident the courts will protect protesters’ First Amendment rights.”

Rochester is the first, and only, city in New York State to shut down an Occupy Wall Street encampment in a public park.

To read the NYCLU’s full letter, visit….

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