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Update on Smith Haven Mall action: Letter from woman arrested

Click here for info on how to send financial support to the two demonstrators facing charges.

The Wilderside editors were proud to be at the Smith Haven Mall “4,000 Soldiers/One million Iraqis” peace demonstration. We were on the “sidewalk team” and did not go into the mall. Though, we support our colleagues who are facing legal problems for wearing a t-shirt at the shopping center which proclaimed simple truths about war and peace on it. The two people arrested were Don Zirkel and Susan McKeon-Steinmann.

We will keep our wilderside readers posted on ways to help. We were excited to receive the message below as a comment from Susan McKeon-Steinmann:

Dear Wilderside and Friends,

I was the other person arrested and I have a few comments on this wonderful action. Sometimes we get caught in the here and now by physical and temporal boundaries without realizing the interconnectedness of what we do.South Country Peace Group/Susan McKeon

Because of this action of over 250 people outside the mall, and dozens inside protesting there is now an international debate about free speech in “private spaces” not only in this country, but also in England. I googled protesters arrested at Smith Haven Mall and found ten pages of blogs on which there are thousands of comments discussing what we did.

The t shirt which says 4000 troops dead,1 million Iraqis, and Enough on the other side has been seen by practically everyone who watches the news on Long Island.

Nancy Dwyer,a Pax Christi member and one of our wonderful peace movement activists was on Channel 12.

People are questioning the New York State law which is different from California or New Jersey which has determined malls to be public places.

The war and protest against it is being discussed by thousands of people who were not doing so before.

For over half an hour, twenty or so of us, young and old read the names of the dead publically and got some support from shoppers, but we stood our ground and withstood several arrest warnings. We moved outside our comfort zone in the name of peace and justice. Saving lives was presented as a higher issue than commerce.

This was a classic civil disobedience action. Like the lunchcounter struggle in the sixties it moved far beyond what any of us expected because it took on a life of its own.

Don and I go to court on May 22nd. My hearing for criminal trespass is at 8:30 and Don’s for criminal trespass and resisting arrest is at 2 pm. I hope the peace movement will spend the day trying the war itself and come to the court to support us. We will meet outside in the parking lot before hand as we did for John Phillips hearing.

We are a package deal. Come to support us both since what has been proven is that an issue whose time has come is stronger than fear or money.

To all the wonderful people who bravely stood outside and in, and to the readers of names of the dead, thank you for giving me the strength to be arrested. Without you, I could not have done it.

Much love,
Susan McKeon-Steinmann

6 Responses

  1. I would like to share this exchange.
    I wrote to the mall operators about the arrest of the deacon. Since they took the trouble to reply so quickly and in depth, I suspect they are open to further discussion. After all, most Americans want the occupation to end (and every American would, if they saw what it looks like on the ground).

    Rather than threatening them with negative consequences, I wonder if mall owners like these could be convinced that this is a time for unity, and they can play a big role?
    How can they be shown that it is in their interest to provide spaces for genuine public discourse? Perhaps then they would agree to keep the recruiters out. After all, recruiters use mall space for free, even though they are selling something, just like any retailer.

    —— Forwarded Message
    From:
    Date: Wed, 02 Apr 2008 13:43:53 -0400
    To:
    Subject: Re: Simon.com Mall Feedback

    Dear Ms. Rogier:

    Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding Smith Haven Mall. All of us at Simon Property Group are highly attentive to our customers’ needs and take their comments very seriously. As representatives of Simon Property Group, your correspondence was forwarded to our attention.

    In response to your email, we, too, are extremely troubled over the unfortunate incident involving Mr. Zirkel and believe the facts, as we know them, have not been fully explained. Contrary to media reports, there were other circumstances that contributed to the arrest of Mr. Zirkel that extended well beyond his claims, including his insistence on continuing to rally inside Smith Haven Mall by handing out pamphlets and interacting with patrons in the mall’s food court, despite being asked to cease and desist these activities.

    The situation initially started out as an organized and peaceful protest outside the mall’s property on Route 25. Protests similar to this one are something that have been conducted by other groups in the past around the borders of our property without incident. In this instance, there were a total of about 150 people representing both sides of the issue who were carrying out their protest in an appropriate manner. However, once a group of approximately 20-25 individuals brought the protest into the mall’s common area and turned a pleasant shopping environment into a forum for their social message, we took the necessary steps to exercise our rights as private property owners. In keeping with our Code of Conduct, it is our corporate policy not to allow protests or demonstrations of any kind to take place on mall property regardless of the topic.

    In this instance, mall management notified the 20 or so protestors that their behavior was in violation of mall policy, were asked to cease and desist their activities, and for the most part they complied. Unfortunately, Mr. Zirkel chose not to follow the mall’s directions. He continued his activities and ultimately refused to leave the property when requested. At that point, Suffolk County Police arrested him placing Mr. Zirkel in a wheel chair for his own safety.

    While we regret the outcome involving Mr. Zirkel, we also cannot allow the pleasant shopping environment we strive to maintain to be disrupted by allowing protests to take place each time an outside organization wants to use the mall as a vehicle to get their message across.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your comments with us. We appreciate your patronage and sincerely hope that Smith Haven Mall has an opportunity to regain its place on your list of favorite shopping destinations.

    Sincerely,

    James R. Lundgren
    Manager
    Smith Haven Mall

    Barbara E. Riley
    Director of Mall Marketing
    Smith Haven Mall

    P:631-724-8066

    Jim Lundgren 03/31/2008 12:03 PM

    To: Barbara Riley/Simon@Simon
    cc:
    Subject: Simon.com Mall Feedback

    —– Forwarded by Jim Lundgren/Simon on 03/31/2008 12:03 PM —–
    rogier@eastlink.ca 03/31/2008 11:09 AM

    To: jlundgre@simon.com
    cc:
    Subject: Simon.com Mall Feedback

    First Name: Francesca
    Last Name: Rogier
    Email Address: rogier@eastlink.ca
    Phone Number:
    Inquiry Type: Mall Feedback
    Mall: Smith Haven Mall
    Visitor’s IP: 76.11.16.217
    Message:
    I come from a large Long Island family, on both sides, going back generations. Many live in your area, and many have shopped and worked in your stores.

    We cannot comprehend how a man of faith who advocates peace could be arrested in the Smith Haven mall.

    This at a time when our country continues to wage in Iraq one of the most aggressive and unjustified wars ever seen, bringing a cease fire to an end with air attacks on peaceful cities and towns. The slaughter of innocent children and the destruction of ancient settlements does not serve our interests, nor does it support our troops, except to degrade them into murderers.

    Americans should not be arresting one another for protesting what is clearly wrong. We should be supporting one another’s right to free speech, and more importantly, standing together in the name of peace and freedom. If one person’s freedom is taken away, none of us is free.

    Please stop persecuting peacemakers!

    —— End of Forwarded Message

  2. Whether you agree or disagree with the Iraq war, we all have the right to protest. That is part of living in this great country. We DO NOT, however, have the right to break the law. These two people were warned that their actions was NOT allowed. They chose to continue, so therefore, they suffer the consequences. END OF STORY. NO excuses, that the law is wrong or unjust. If they think the law needs to be changed in NY, then there are other paths to take.

  3. Debbie,

    What law did they break?

    Ian

  4. My thanks and admiration to Susan and Don. Many of us will be at the courthouse on May 22nd. Don is being accused of leafletting which he adamantly denies and has asked the mall to supply the video or witnesses to this fact. He was not part of the protest inside the mall, but was a paying customer in the food court and merely sitting with a t-shirt on.
    We must challenge the malls, which used to be called the “commons” where people were free to exercise their 1st amendment right until corporations were given more rights than citizens. Isn’t it the taxpayers who pay for the salaries of the police and fire dept. to monitor the malls? Who pays for the repairs in the parking lots?

  5. Not only that, but the malls were given many tax breaks I am sure by the county to build there and these incentives were paid for by us.

  6. […] Letter from Susan McKeon Steinmann to Wilderside here. […]

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