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Congress Members Rangel, Owens, And Nadler Call On Mayor Bloomberg To Protect First Amendment Rights At RNC

Congressional leaders joined the New York Civil Liberties Union today in asking Mayor Michael Bloomberg to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the regulation of protest activities at the upcoming Republican National Convention. Lawmakers acknowledged recent positive actions taken by the City to safeguard First Amendment rights at the Convention. However, they highlighted several important outstanding issues addressed by the Memorandum, but yet to be acted on by Mayor Bloomberg.

Congressmen Major Owens and Jerrold Nadler; the NYCLU’s Udi Ofer and Robert Perry, and Congressman Charles Rangel.

“We’re encouraged that the City’s administration has taken positive measures to address concerns about demonstration permits and march routes,” said Robert Perry, Legislative Director of the NYCLU. “But we believe affirmative steps are still necessary to ensure the city strikes the proper balance between security and freedom of speech and expression.”

The lawmakers called on Mayor Bloomberg to respond to a number of issues addressed in the Memorandum of Understanding. They specifically asked:

  • What plans does the City Administration have to facilitate access to and freedom of movement at demonstrations and rallies?
  • What measures has the NYPD taken to inform and update people regarding locations of and access to demonstration sites? Will the NYPD dedicate a section of its Web site for this purpose?
  • Has the NYPD provided special training that will instruct police officials and the rank and file to respect people engaged in peaceful demonstrations? Will this training program address when it is appropriate or inappropriate, to use force?
  • Is the NYPD prepared to document its compliance with the Handschu guidelines, which require documentation of investigations into political or religious activities?

“I am concerned that not enough is being done by the City administration to welcome the thousands of Americans who will come to New York City to express their First Amendment rights at the Republican National Convention,” said Congressman Charles Rangel (D-15CD). “This Memorandum of Understanding spells out a way to respect the right to protest and protect the public safety.”

“My constituents live in the vicinity of Madison Square Garden, so I understand the need for security at the Convention,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-8CD). “Our City has a long history of protecting the right to protest, and the RNC will give us yet another opportunity to shine. We want to work with the City to make sure that all our bases are covered.”

The Memorandum of Understanding is endorsed by seven members of the New York City Congressional delegation, including Representatives Eliot Engel, Carolyn Maloney, Jose Serrano and Edolphus Towns along with Representatives Nadler, Owens and Rangel. A copy of the Memorandum was sent to Mayor Bloomberg on June 9 in order to facilitate a dialogue with City officials. Mayor Bloomberg has yet to respond.

“New Yorkers must be given every opportunity to speak their voices outside the Republican National Convention,” said Rep. Owens (D-11CD). “We expect demonstrators to follow the law and to act peacefully at the Convention. By the same token, we expect the City to conduct law enforcement activities in a manner that respects freedom of speech, expression and association.”

Lawmakers and the NYCLU expressed approval of several positive developments since the Memorandum was first sent to Mayor Bloomberg. The City administration has granted more than a dozen permits for marches and rallies at the Convention, and a federal judge in Manhattan ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought by the NYCLU that enjoins the use of certain police tactics that in the past have violated First Amendment rights. Yet the participants at today’s news conference agreed that more work needed to be done.

Udi Ofer, Project Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Campaign at the NYCLU, added, “We will be working overtime in the upcoming weeks to ensure that the City administration protects both our security and our constitutional rights during the Republican National Convention. Our position is clear that civil liberties and national security do not conflict. There is a way to be both safe and free.”

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