The New York Civil Liberties Union today criticized a New York City Police Department plan to expand police control over protest activity, pledging to call on the City Council to block the NYPD's proposed regulations if the NYPD does not abandon the plan.
The proposed rules, which the Police Department published quietly on Monday, would dramatically expand the NYPD's definition of a parade to include any group of thirty-five people walking together on, but not blocking, a sidewalk. The rules would require small groups wishing to walk on City sidewalks or lawfully ride on City streets -- activities that have never required permits before -- to apply in advance for permits from the Police Department.
"This proposal will suffocate spontaneous protest activity and inevitably lead to police micromanagement of sidewalk protests," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "It is completely at odds with New York City's proud tradition of free expression, and if the Police Department insists on moving forward with it then we will ask the City Council to block it."
Under the proposed regulations any group of 35 or more people wishing to march on a public sidewalk or any group of 20 or more people wishing to ride or drive on pubic streets would have to obtain a permit from the police. Sidewalk marches and lawful vehicle processions have never before needed permits.
"This would be a dramatic and unnecessary expansion of police control over protest activity," NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said. "Requiring groups that are doing nothing more than walking on public sidewalks to obtain police permits will suppress protest activity and lead to wholly unnecessary conflict between police and protesters."
The NYCLU has a long history of representing groups that conduct sidewalk marches or lawful vehicle or bicycle processions. If new rules forced those groups to obtain permits those groups would have to negotiate the details of their events with police officials and would face the risk of arrest if they did not agree to police demands. In many cases, the NYCLU believes, the groups would abandon their protest plans rather than face the risk of arrest.