What do you get when two people jaywalk together? A parade, according to proposed NYPD rules made public July 18. The rules were evidently issued in response to judicial criticism that the NYPD’s attempts to shut down Critical Mass bike rides relied on a vaguely worded statute governing public protests and parades.
Without any legislative input, the NYPD is attempting to finalize its own redefinition. The police have called a hearing at its own headquarters on the evening of Thurs. Aug. 23 to solicit public comment. An agency (the NYPD in this case) is only required to provide notice and an opportunity for the public to be heard. After Aug. 23, they can publish the new rule in the City Record and it becomes final 30 days later.
Other provisions of the rule change would say that any group of 20 bicyclists is a parade, and any group of 35 on foot is a parade. As few as two people can constitute a parade if they move “in a manner that does not comply with all applicable traffic laws, rules and regulations.”
Now you are in danger of conspiring with a complete stranger if you both accidentally step into the roadway outside of the crosswalk. Paul Browne, the police department’s spokesman says the new rules “are designed to protect members of the public who find themselves in the vicinity of a group event.” Feel safer?
Guild lawyers say that this is an obvious effort to crack down on Critical Mass. Civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel points out that the city tried and failed in both state court and federal court to end the bike rides. Both times, the Judge noted that “the statute does no more than list specific types of parades and processions without explaining what makes them so.” This lack of definition was the reason the courts refused to ban the bike rides.
The problem with this approach is that the NYPD is an executive agency, responsive only to the Mayor. According to Siegel, only the city council has the legislative power to change the city’s administrative code. “Consequently this matter has now put the council’s institutional integrity on the line,” he says.
So far, only councilman Alan Gerson has voiced opposition to the proposal, and no legislation has been introduced to stop the usurpation by the police of the council’s role. The City Charter makes it clear that the police commissioner is charged only with the execution of the law, not with writing it.
Worse, the rule includes a new provision that defines “applicant” to mean “a person or entity that publicizes a parade through advertisements or other means of mass communication.”
At present, the city issues permits only to identified applicants. The redefinition of the term applicant seems to be a way to hold any person affiliated with the promotion of Critical Mass liable for parading without a permit.
There is no question that these proposed rules would be a disaster for the right to peaceably assemble in New York City. Speaker Christine Quinn has not taken any public position on the rule change. For activists, the question is whether we should try to get a less bad law, or take the position that the First Amendment is the only permit that we need. Time’s Up is organizing a people’s forum on Aug.17 at St. Mark’s Church at 7pm to consider the best strategy.
The public hearing before the rule goes in to effect is scheduled to take place at 6pm on Aug. 23 at One Police Plaza, first floor auditorium. Check Transportation Alternative’s website at ww.transalt.org to confirm the place and time, and for instructions on how to submit written comments on the rule change.
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www.atlanticyardsreport.com (original analysis, reporting every day by Norman Oder