NYC Parks: Mayor Giuliani Cuts the Free From Freedom of Assembly
Joining some friends and their children for a picnic in a New York City park? Planning a poetry reading under the trees? Want to sit on the grass with fellow Bhuddists and silently meditate on the latest teachings of the Dali Lama? Do the members of your church or synagogue quietly stroll on a tree-lined path after services? Not so fast! Wheres your permit?
If the rules being proposed for a public hearing at the Parks Departments headquarters on September 22 are passed, all of these activities will soon be illegal without a permit from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Parks Commissioner Henry Stern. For the past 210 years such activities have been fully protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly contained in the U.S. Constitution. Centuries before the Constitution was written these activities were considered human rights protected by common law. Failure to comply with the new rules will result in a summons or arrest, a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a sentence of up to 90 days in Rikers Island.
On 8/16/99 the Parks Department posted a six page announcement in an obscure newspaper unavailable on newstands, the City Record, detailing the proposed new rules. So far, media coverage of the proposal has entirely focused on a slightly revised definition of sexual activity, ignoring the far more drastic changes in Parks rules affecting everyone. Last Monday, Commissioner Stern appeared on television news shows solemnly describing how perverts expose themselves in parks and how the new rules would address that problem. Somehow Mr. Stern forgot to mention the far more drastic changes he and the Mayor hope to pass into law.
The essence of the change is contained in the following two items.from the proposed new rules for the Department of Parks
1-02 Definitions: Special Event
Special Event means a group activity including but not limited to a contest, exhibit, ceremony, parade, athletic competition, reading or picnic involving more than 20 people.
1-05 Regulated Uses (a) Assemblies, meetings, exhibitions No person shall hold or sponsor any special event without a permit.
By changing the meaning of a special event to include any and all group activities, including religious, political or social gatherings as well as sports, and by requiring a permit, the Mayor is attempting to eliminate the publics right to freely assemble in a public park. That would include the right to make a speech, to demonstrate or even to sit, stand or silently walk in a group of 20 or more people.
While the Parks Department aggressively solicits daily corporate events for New York City parks and turns the financing and operation of parks over to these same corporations, activities that never previously required a permit are becoming severely restricted. Some corporate events, like the Garth Brooks HBO concert and the Disney film premieres, have involved as many as 750,000 people, massive amounts of equipment and enormous damage to park infrastructure. Virtually all of the corporations involved heavily contribute to, and are closely associated with, Mayor Giuliani.
Apparently, the Park Departments corporate friends such as Disney, Chase Bank, and HBO felt it was unfair to require them to get a permit (some of which have involved a fee of one million dollars or more) while allowing the less well-connected among us to publicly gather for free without a permit.
During the course of the Giuliani administration the Department of Parks has been in the front-line of attacks on constitutional rights. Recent legal clashes between the Parks Department and street artists, musicians, dog walkers and kite flyers have shown the extraordinary lengths the Mayor is willing to go to force New Yorkers to conform to his notion of a more civil society. Numerous critics of the Mayor and Commissioner Stern have likened their efforts to the creation of a police state.
A public hearing on the proposed new rules will be held Wednesday, September 22, 1999 5-7 P.M. at the Arsenal, Central Park, #830 Fifth Avenue. Persons seeking to testify or get further information on the new rules should contact Thomas Rozinski, Parks Counsel (212) 360-1314.
"Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it." Mayor Giuliani, New York Times, March 17, 1994
For a partial list of corporate sponsors of Central Park see: http://www.centralparknyc.org/gi-corppartners.html
Also see: NY Times May 19, 1996 NYC Allows Companies to Shill in Park if they make a Buck; NY Times 3/28/98, Disney Buys Access to Field That Is Closed to the Public; NY Times 12/1/98 Bazaars Set Off Debate Over Role of Parks; Rats!, V.Voice 7/8/98; NY POST 7/20/98, Stars Planned Pub Peeves Parents.
Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists Response To Illegal State Tactics) ARTISTpres at aol.com (718) 369-2111 http://www.openair.org/alerts/artist/nyc.html
Visit this website for extensive information on the pending street artist lawsuit against the Parks Department, Lederman et al v Giuliani, and for other information about Mayor Giulianis attacks on civil freedom. You may freely reproduce the above article with attribution and exactly as is.