Does The Mayor Of NYC Live In A 'No Free Speech' Zone?

Originally billed as a "First Amendment three-ring circus," yesterday's protest of the NYPD's treatment of journalists and the Constitutional rights of protesters drew only around 60 people at its peak. But with so few in attendance, why did the NYPD feel the need to block access to 79th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues entirely?

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Via The Gothamist:

Originally billed as a "First Amendment three-ring circus," yesterday's protest of the NYPD's treatment of journalists and the Constitutional rights of protesters drew only around 60 people at its peak. But with so few in attendance, why did the NYPD feel the need to block access to 79th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues entirely? And how was enacting this "frozen zone" outside of Mayor Bloomberg's residence at 17 East 79th Street legal? "It's not," civil rights attorney Norman Siegel told us. "It's illegal, unconstitutional, and a clear abuse of authority."

A half-dozen livestreamers, recording speeches and intermittent mic checks, were surrounded on the northeast corner of 79th and Fifth Avenue by more than 20 NYPD officers. A massive NYPD mobile command vehicle idled nearby, and barricades prevented anyone but residents from entering 79th street. "I'd say the NYPD's obstruction of the press is higher now than it was during the 2004 Republican convention," Occupy Wall Street press liaison Bill Dobbs said. "It's more frequent, and more severe. I spoke with an AP photographer here who said they hadn't seen things this bad in 30 years on the job."

We witnessed Siegel (who is representing Gothamist in our process to obtain press credentials) speak with an NYPD officer who told him that it's "standard procedure to create a frozen zone on 79th street during any demonstrations." The NYPD has not responded to our requests to confirm that this is in fact department policy.

Just two years ago, Siegel represented two Brooklyn High School students in a lawsuit against the city. The students wanted a permit to protest their school's closure outside Bloomberg's residence. As Siegel told reporters at the time, "The larger issue is clear: Can a public sidewalk be transformed into a private enclave because the mayor of New York lives there?" The court ruled that it couldn't. But that victory was short-lived: less than a week later on the day of the protest, the 2nd Circuit claimed that Judge Alvin Hellerstein didn't have the authority to make the decision, and overruled him. The city won on appeal. "That case troubled me then, and it troubles me now," Siegel said.

Bloomberg's "private army" have also been brazenly hostile to journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street events. Most recent was a verbal confrontation between an NYPD cop and New York Times reporter Colin Moynihan. After threatening to confiscate Moynihan's credentials (which are begrudgingly issued by the NYPD to media outlets only after a bizarre process), the reporter replies, "Don't abuse your badge! You're threatening me for what? This is a public place! I don't take orders. I don't work for the police department." It's telling that the officer fires back, "Do what you're told. You got your badge from us, right? That's who you got it from." The implication, of course, is that the NYPD can restrict the press at will, withholding access and punishing reporters they don't like. Attacks on the press have gotten so numerous and severe that several journalist organizations have formed the Coalition for the First Amendment.You can view that exchange at the 6:15 mark into the video below:

About Diane Sweet

Diane Sweet's picture
Senior Editor, Lives in a gerrymandered district in Michigan.

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