Mendez Bill Would Overturn NYPD Parade Rules

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A cyclist is ticketed during Critical Mass last spring

City Council Member Rosie Mendez has introduced a bill to overturn the NYPD's parade permit rules, which require groups of over 50 to obtain a permit before assembling. Enacted a year ago, the rules were seen as a way for the city to subvert Critical Mass rides and have been the subject of civil rights action and at least one lawsuit.

Mendez, along with Alan Gerson and Gale Brewer, were to introduce the "First Amendment Assembly Act" yesterday. According to a media release, the bill [PDF] "decriminalizes parading without a permit and allows groups that need exceptions to various laws, such as traffic laws, to obtain such for their events."

Streetsblog has posted consistently on how the NYPD seems more intent on harassing cyclists than protecting them. And just last week Commissioner Ray Kelly got an earful from citizens who are fed up with unsafe conditions for cyclists and pedestrians.

The full press release from Mendez follows the jump.

COUNCIL MEMBER MENDEZ INTRODUCES BILL TO PROTECT THE FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT TO ASSEMBLE

Wednesday March 26th 2008

At today's Stated City Council meeting, Council Member Rosie Mendez (District 2, Manhattan), along with Council Members Alan Gerson and Gale Brewer, will introduce a bill to balance the NYPD's duty to ensure public safety with citizens' right to free assembly. If enacted into law, the bill will override the parade permit rules adopted by the NYPD a year ago which were created without City Council oversight and require any group of 50 or more to obtain a permit. Currently, anyone in such a group without a permit is subject to arrest.

A copy of the legislation being introduced can be downloaded from the Assemble For Rights NYC website:
http://www.assembleforrightsnyc.org/files/a4r/legal/parade_bill_final_draft.doc

"Groups wishing to assemble and stay within the limits of the law should not be required to obtain a permit; the First Amendment is our permit" stated Council Member Mendez. "Larger assemblies that want the police to
assist in managing traffic along their route and ensure security should be able to apply for a permit through a fair and transparent process. This bill sets forth clear guidelines for each instance."

The First Amendment Assembly Act, based on legislation drafted by the civil rights advocacy group Assemble For Rights NYC, decriminalizes parading without a permit and allows groups that need exceptions to various laws, such as traffic laws, to obtain such for their events.

A parade permit will not be required when:
* A group believes their proposed assembly will not prevent other lawful uses of the same city public space and the expected attendance of the assembly will be less than 100, or
* The assembly is an immediate and spontaneous response to an event.

The Act also sets forth guidelines for the NYPD to facilitate peaceful assemblies even when a group should have obtained a permit but did not. Furthermore, the Act also encourages calmer resolutions to assemblies which become too difficult for the NYPD to facilitate: these guidelines include providing clearly communicated dispersal orders and reasonable opportunities to disperse before making any arrests.

The Act is similar to rules which were created to govern assemblies in Washington D.C. in the wake of mass arrests that eventually cost D.C. millions in civil penalties. D.C.'s laws have successfully reduced tensions between police and citizens there, and significantly reduced that city's legal liability to wrongful arrest civil suits, while ensuring public safety.

Assemble For Rights NYC (http://assembleforrightsnyc.org), is a coalition of over two dozen organizations dedicated to keeping free speech alive and well in New York City.

Photo: Doug Letterman/Flickr