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NYCLU Calls on Rochester Mayor to Respect Right to Protest

The New York Civil Liberties Union today urged Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards to protect the right to protest by accommodating Occupy Rochester demonstrations in the city’s parks and public spaces.

KaeLyn Rich, director of the NYCLU’s Genesee Valley Chapter said:

As the home of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, Rochester should be a welcoming place for peaceful protest. Cracking down on the Occupy Rochester protest violates the spirit of the First Amendment and is an affront to our city’s great civil rights legacy.

Last Friday, 32 people were arrested at a demonstration in Washington Square Park, making Rochester the first, and only, city in New York State to shut down an Occupy Wall Street encampment in a public park. Since then, protestors have complied with the Police Department’s orders to leave the park at 11 p.m., but police continue to issue tickets for minor infractions, such as hanging a banner in the park.

In a letter to Mayor Richards, the NYCLU urges city officials to accommodate the right to protest — as public officials in Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse and New York City have done — by allowing the Occupy Rochester protestors to peacefully assemble in Washington Square Park between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., as well as during regular park hours.

The First Amendment prohibits regulatory schemes that give total discretion to officials to impose or to waive restrictions that limit free expression. Rochester’s law appears to “suffer from that constitutional failing,” the NYCLU letter warns, as parks are closed overnight unless the police commissioner says otherwise. Moreover, the blanket ban on displaying signs or banners in parks without a permit raises serious concerns about whether there are requisite outlets for expressive activity.

“The First Amendment sets the floor, not the ceiling, for protection of free expression,” Rich said. “It is entirely appropriate to relax enforcement of the usual park rules to accommodate peaceful protest.”

To read the NYCLU’s full letter, visit http://www.nyclu.org/files/releases/OccupyRochester_Letter_Mayor_Richards_11.2.11.pdf.

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