The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) called Monday on Rochester mayor Thomas Richards to immediately halt the enforcement of a city ordinance that is being used to restrict “Occupy Rochester” demonstrations in Washington Square Park.
“The city’s crackdown on ‘Occupy Rochester’ demonstrations shows a disturbing disregard for the constitutionally protected right to protest,” said KaeLyn Rich, director of the NYCLU’s Genesee Valley Chapter. “Mayor Richards must use his authority to accommodate peaceful protest and stop enforcing local ordinances that violate people’s First Amendment rights.”
More than 50 “Occupy Rochester” protesters have been arrested for violating the city’s park law.
The ordinance is unconstitutional, according to the NYCLU, because it gives the Commissioner of Recreation and Youth Services unbridled discretion to decide whether the public park should remain open or closed after normal operating hours.
The group is also alarmed by reports that the Rochester Police Department told protesters to “keep the signs to a minimal.” The order was possibly a reference to a city ordinance that requires any person who seeks to display a sign in a public park to obtain a permit.
“The First Amendment sets the floor, not the ceiling, for free expression,” Rich said. “We hope that city officials will embrace free speech and stop enforcing these unconstitutional ordinances. If they choose not to, we are confident the courts will protect protesters’ First Amendment rights.”
Rochester is the first and only city in the state of New York to shut down an “Occupy” demonstration in a public park.
Mayor Thomas said in late October he supported citizens’ First Amendment rights, but that it was the city’s duty to uphold policies that ensured public health, safety and access.