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NYCLU And CCR Lawyers Urge State Judge To Open Central Park To Peaceful Protest

Attorneys for the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights today argued that New York City should open Central Park for peaceful protest by United for Peace and Justice August 29th, the eve of the Republican National Convention. Attorneys told State Supreme Court Judge Jacqueline Silberman that the City is applying rules about political protest that appear nowhere in Parks Department regulations and are not available to the general public.

Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU, argued that the City has not presented a workable alternative to a gathering on the Great Lawn of Central Park and outright rejected a number of proposals from UFPJ for a rally site. The organization has a permit to march past Madison Square Garden along 7th Avenue, but has been offered a long stretch of the West Side Highway as the only alternative for a post-march rally.

Two witnesses testified at today’s hearing: Leslie Cagan, National Coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, and Elizabeth Smith, Chief of Marketing and Corporate Sponsorship of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Cagan testified that the West Side Highway is a “uniquely bad location” for a rally, noting that it is divided by a median that obstructs site lines, that it is not shaded, and that it would be prohibitively expensive to outfit it with a sound system (over $631,000).

Cagan also testified that even though UFPJ at one point agreed to use the West Side Highway as a rally location, the group had “raised these problems from day one.”

Dunn was joined by Jeff Fogel, Legal Director of CCR, who cross examined Smith of the Parks Department regarding rules and regulations about which events can happen in Central Park. Smith admitted that the Parks Department has “co-sponsorship” deals with selective organizations in the city, including the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, and that it reserves two event spots for each of those organizations each year without requesting bonds for possible damage.

The City’s Corporation Counsel admitted that the West Street location has drawbacks. “No one is saying the West Side Highway is ideal,” the city’s lead counsel said in his opening remarks. “It’s not a coliseum.”

Dunn noted that this case is different from the case in which Federal Judge William H. Pauley III ruled yesterday. He pointed out the rally in question in that lawsuit is much smaller and could therefore take place in locations other than the park, whereas the UFPJ rally is large enough that Central Park is the only viable option.

A ruling by Judge Silberman is expected tomorrow.

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