Urban Prairieland Saved From Invading Hordes


Reader Dan Leathers alerts us to New York Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline Silbermann's decision barring protesters from gathering in Central Park next week:

The decision by New York Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline Silbermann is the latest in a running legal battle between the protest group and the city. She sided with city officials, who say they fear the grass on the park's Great Lawn would be damaged and security could not be ensured for the huge crowd.

Says Leathers: "That's right … grass > free speech/right to assemble in importance."

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  1. bloody environmentalist judges!

    but really though — its a bit of a crime that decision — its like the government is trying to make the situation worse and encourage rioting and tumults — what does public choice theory have to say about that?

  2. Whom would the NYPD arrest?

    They would treat the gathering as a disturbance and attempt to disperse it.

    That I think is key…for any of you UFPJ folks reading, you should probably just go to Central Park anyway. The judge can stop you from getting a permit to demonstrate there, but no one can stop you from peacefully assembling on public grounds. I think somebody already had this idea, so you might be fighting for space. But hey, if you really hate Bush that much, don’t take it in the ass from some glorified lawyer in a black robe. Show up and make some noise.

  3. The purpose of dissent is, apparently, not communicating your views and opinions, but disrupting the lives of people who happen to live nearby?

    well, i would say plainly not, r.c. — their views of the dissenters are well known. they don’t lack for advertising — they lack for compelling force and drama. protest can provide that, but only if it presents itself as forceful and dramatic. what chance of doing that within your city-demarcated playpen with your permit?

    mechanical protest is no protest at all. it is the empty exercize of the letter of your rights while being simultaneously the complete abandonment of the spirit of your rights.

    i would argue that such is precisely the problem with american society and government in general.

  4. Grounds for arrest yet?

    unfortunately, thoreau, i’m sure it would be just that, and long before the signs made it out. the law of rights has a way of being bent (broken?) in these situations.

  5. I agree with Malak. Where’s the “free speech” or “right to assemble” issue here? Let the protesters assemble on their own land; then they can protest all they want.

  6. Um… Doesn’t a public park count as “their own land”. Also, by allowing the argument that “They’re just being denied use of a particular area of city property” arent you infact justifying existence of “free-speech zones”?

  7. The permit is not for the speech itself, but for the time and place and manner of exercise. Which still seems a violation of rights, but we can’t yell fire! in a moviehouse either.

    The speech itself is regulated by PATRIOT.

    Evan: Nearly everything has some of your (our) money in it these days.

    thoreau: 250K people showing up somewhere, uncoordinated, with signs. Sounds like the Rose Bowl.

    gaius: Mechanical protest could be a placeholder and practice for spirited protest. Try getting 250K people to show up somewhere carrying signs without some practice.

    Malak: If NYC was sued by lefties over RNC-related damage, GWB could pardon the city on his way out the door.

  8. I predict the pro-Kerry faction will get much more attention over this than the pro-Bush squad got when they were locked in the Freedom Cage.

    I wish I could disagree with Dan and Malak, but the RNC is a private party. The state was given the power to regulate public lands in the public’s interest, so if you’re going to allow such a state, they can tell you to keep of the grass.

  9. Similarly, congregating for a protest is a traditional use of a park

    No, it isn’t. The traditional use of a park is relaxation.

  10. Um… Doesn’t a public park count as “their own land”.

    Public land belongs to the government, not to each and every citizen ruled by that government. However, even if it *did* belong to New Yorkers collectively, most of the protesters aren’t from New York and hence have zero claim to the land under any standard.

    Also, by allowing the argument that “They’re just being denied use of a particular area of city property” arent you infact justifying existence of “free-speech zones”?

    Free speech zones are bans on political speech in areas where other, opposed political speech is taking place. If Bush was planning to hold a rally in the park and a judge banned the protesters from being there as well, *that* would be bad.

  11. It’s the modern way of things.

    We need an environmental impact statement filled out along with your request to assemble.

    Seems perfectly in line with the direction the country’s beeng going for 25 years.


  12. Congregating is among the traditional uses of a park but in this case the government is selectively quashing political congregating.

  13. Jeez, I was just looking at it from the perspective that Bloomberg, et al, wouldn’t want their collective asses sued should one of these rent-a-mob bozos hurt themselves at an “approved” protest location. But that probably wouldn’t happen, eh?

  14. rst at 11:54 AM:

    “All they had to so was lie and say 50,000 people were going to show up.”

    Still, I pine for the days when we didn’t have to lie to exercise our rights.

  15. joe’s little tale is a bungled state transaction over divided rights. It sounds important, but has little relevance to this discussion of a purely public space like Central Park.

    Salt Lake sold the block to the LDS for construction of a pedestrian plaza knowing the church intended to restrict disruptive uses. SLC hoped to guarantee pedestrian access through an easement. The court decided the easment granted full public forum rights, and the LDS could not restrict disruptive behaviour on their beautiful new plaza. Since the ruling, SLC has forsaken the easement in exchange for some other property. Now you can’t hassle Mormons on Main Street Plaza. (Note: the ACLU is disputing this amicable resolution)

    The debate in SLC was over the extent of rights attached to the easement. the debate here is over permissible restrictions on any public forum.

  16. Actually, joesux, the debate here is about the extent of the rights, since the “save the grass” ruling is a transparent pretext.

    Dan, congregating for political purposes is indeed a traditional use of public spaces, including streets, squares, and urban parks. Read some history.

  17. People who use their power to limit, segregate, quarantine, or otherwise restrict expression are being so unpatriotic that they might as well be spitting on the flag. (and THAT would be their right, but don’t expect them to necessarily know it)

  18. To qoute International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, 505 US 672:

    …regulation of speech on government property that has traditionally been available for public expression is subject to the highest scrutiny.

  19. The Great Lawn has a capacity for something like 50 to 80,000 people, and they don’t let more than that in for concerts. United for Peace and Justice put in a permit for a TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND PERSON MARCH and RALLY.

    The city has NEVER opposed UFPJ’s request to march BY THE CONVENTION AT Madison Square Garden, and the city offered to CLOSE THE WEST SIDE HIGHWAY. For those of you who don’t live in New York and who haven’t been here, let me explain: Closing the West Side Highway will royally SCREW a *LOT* of people (yours truly) – but Mayor Bloomberg and I and the rest of NYC accepted that inconvenience as part of the price of democracy. BUT STAY OFF THE GODDAMN LAWN.

    F* Them in the Pooper for Shamelessly Dragging New York Into Court to meet their RIDICULOUS demands so that they can keep their name in the papers.

    These are the types of A*HOLES that give “activists” a bad name. F* them AND the horse they rode in on!

  20. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the organizations putting the protests together offered to pay for the city’s use of security and for whatever damage they did to the Park. But of course, they want a free lunch.

    The Dems and the GOP, of course, should have also been required to pony up whatever Boston and NYC spent to provide security and such for their little parties, but the same principle equally applies to the protesters. I also don’t see where they get the “right” to block traffic.

    Ach… A curse on all their houses.

  21. As JohnBlazin points out — albeit with a TON OF CAPS — this decision is not only fine, but obviously correct. The protestors are asking to put 5x the number of people on the lawn than have ever been given permission before. (Rick Barton is wrong — they have concerts, yes, but they sell tickets, and limit admission to a number way lower than 250,000.)

    By congregating on the Great Lawn, the protestors would cause such damage to not only make it unusable for others during the protest (which would be true even if they caused no damage at all), but also for weeks later. It doesn’t matter why they are there — a concert, a protest, a love-in, whatever. There are simply too many people being “invited” for the event to occur there.

    The First Amendment exists to protect our right to congregate and to speak, but makes no judgments as to the content of that speech. If we give the protestors a pass, we’re favoring their speech over those whose political fervor is smaller (or perhaps simply less obvious). That simply cannot be a correct outcome.

  22. I wish I could disagree with Dan and Malak, but the RNC is a private party.

    That’s one hell of a “private” party. Y’see, I’m accustomed to, um, “private parties” being paid for by the “private holders” of said “private party”. IOW, I paid for this fucker, so I get to say who goes and who stays.

    Instead, the RNC (and DNC) are paid for with millions upon millions in taxpayer kish-kash. Not only that, but the reasoning behind this aggregious act of theft was that these conventions were, in some way, an exercise in “public education”, some sort of extravagant PSA.

    Imagine, someone steals money from you at the point of a gun, then tells you that it’s going to hold a convention [party] with that money, but, hey, it’s all good, because the party will be educational for you. Then they lock you out and tell you it’s a private party.

    This is not to speak of the Central Park issue, which is not so cut-and-dried. In that case, the city shouldn’t provide a damn thing beyond their normal duties. And people shouldn’t be REQUIRED to get a PERMIT to exercise their RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH.

  23. I wish I’d had a camera, but in Hawaii I saw a sign I’ll never forget:

    Government Property

    That said it more eloquently than I could.

  24. I used to work landscaping at an outdoor venue. You know what we had up behind the seats?

    A LAWN.

    People trample grass, we blow grass back up with leafblowers. Grass is fine.

    This is not about the grass, people.

    Dan, in a recent case, Salt Lake City sold a block of Main Street (the actual right of way) to the Mormons, but kept an easement over it whic stipulated that the public would continue to be able to use it as a street. When the Church started kicking people off the street for handing out leaflets and proclaiming other religious and/or political messages, they got sued. The Church argued that allowing people to use it as a street meant they could walk and drive on it, and that’s it. The courts disagreed, ruling that the use of a street includes the right to carry out speech acts that are traditional parts of using a street, such as handing out handbills and preaching on a streetcorner. Similarly, congregating for a protest is a traditional use of a park.

  25. This park grass is a hybrid. This is a cross, ah, Bluegrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, Featherbed Bent, and Northern California Sensemilia. The amazing stuff about this is, that you can protest on it in the afternoon, take it home and just get stoned to the bejeezus-belt that night on this stuff. Here, I’ve got pounds of this. It’s a little harsh..

  26. joe: absolutely 100% correct.

    The freedom of speech isn’t limited to public property that the government deems OK on a whim. It was wrong in Boston and its wrong in New York. If you can’t deal with protesters and their resultant inconvenience, move to a city with no parks.

    Bitching about protesters wrecking the grass is another pre-crime argument. Maybe they’ll all wear golf shoes.

  27. Yeah, those NYC judges are famous for being hard-shell Republicans.

  28. “joe: absolutely 100% correct.”

    I must be on the wrong site. 🙂

  29. Um, am I the only one who thinks that the activists are screaming about not being allowed to protest over “the grass” because they know it sounds so much more ridiculous than the security issues? “The grass” was not the only reason given.

  30. Karl Rove must be so disappointed. I’m sure he was hoping for a massive demonstration complete with giant puppets and “Bush=Hitler” signs whose images would be beamed into the households of middle class America. If black shirts attacked people or property or a generalize riot broke out it would be even better!

    Still, if you’ve got a quarter of million arrogantly self-righteous people converging a city something bad will happen plus there is the script kiddies DoS attack against the convention that is supposed to start today so Karl can count on stories from the media when their internet access slows down or stops.

  31. Personally, I?d rather they used Central Park then close off the west side highway and various other streets during business hours next week.

    The private organization which now fixes up central park and has imposed what looks like a million miles of crappy wooden slat fences to show park users where they can and cannot go (don?t get me started on that) are really the ones with their panties in a bunch over the use of ?their? lawn. I?m surprised the kinder and gentler republican Bloomberg hasn?t declared that such mass meetings are illegal since they can possibly endanger a person?s health. It?s for the protestor?s children!

    In the past 20 years ago, there were plenty of people in the park for the Simon and Garfunkle concert and the No Nukes rally. I never heard a peep at the time regarding concern about the grass. Heck, moist of the folks who use the park are only tourists anyway, coming to the city for a couple of years, making a bundle, and then heading off to whatever hole they crept out of in the first place.

    And in regards to Carl Spackler, I never heard that the lawn was part sensamilla, but friends and I used to smoke up mint with some groundkeepers in the 84th St playground back in the early 80s.

  32. From the New York Times June 13, 1982 issue about the giant No Nukes Rally:

    “Patrick J. Murphy, the Police Department’s chief of operations, said at 2:30 P.M. that the crowd on the Great Lawn of Central Park – even without those who overflowed onto Fifth Avenue and Central Park West – had reached 500,000. Tens of thousands more were still on the parade route from the United Nations and Dag Hammarskjold Plazas at 47th Street and First Avenue, waiting for places in the park.”

  33. “Public land belongs to the government, not to each and every citizen ruled by that government.”

    But, in this case we’re talking about a place where the intended use is for people to assemble…It’s a park! Yet, the government is specifically proscribing political activity! This is most certainly a freedom of speech and right to assemble issue.

    If the government can ban political speech on any government land, can’t we just imagine government planners saying, “Let’s put park land all around the convention center so we won’t have to worry about those pesky demonstrators.”

    We should always remember that our whole nation is supposed to be a “free speech zone”. That’s an important part of the core idea behind our republic.

  34. 250,000 protesters. That is a LOT of freaking people. The population of St Louis, maybe? I don’t know what the conventioneer population will be but certainly much less than that.

    NY should see this as an economic opportunity to exploit the buying synergy of the two groups. Protesters eat, drink and get laid, too, you know.

    NY’s heavy handedness toward the majority numbers reminds me a bit of the RIAA and their marketing plan of suing customers who violate their rules.

  35. This is not about the grass, people.

    agreed. it amazes me still that dissent requires permits. amazes me. civil disobedience become civil obedience.

    dissent properly done is descending upon the city to make life as difficult as possible for all new york. forget central park — assemble at broad and wall. assemble on all sides of msg.

    i’m not advocating total anarchy — protesters have a social obligation to behave morally, imo, if not lawfully. but inconvenience is the *object* of effective protest, it seems to this observer, and to stay within your proper “zone” and seek the relevant “permits” is to denude protest of its power — as though by the very design of the government.

  36. Ronald,

    The lawn was restored in 1997 at a cost of $18 million. That’s when the 80,000 limit was implemented. Rallies from 1982 don’t have any bearing on this.

    The simple fact of the case is that United for Peace and Justice could not and would not agree to all of the things that someone getting a permit at the park must agree to. Now, arguing over whether those rules are correct is perfectly valid. Arguing over whether this group was singled out because of its political views is not.

  37. dissent properly done is descending upon the city to make life as difficult as possible for all new york.

    WTF? The purpose of dissent is, apparently, not communicating your views and opinions, but disrupting the lives of people who happen to live nearby?

  38. If the government can ban political speech on any government land, can’t we just imagine government planners saying, “Let’s put park land all around the convention center so we won’t have to worry about those pesky demonstrators.”

    As much as I despise the notion of “free speech zones,” reading this particular decisions it’s as much about such zones as the California court decision against the SF mayor was about gay marriage. All they had to so was lie and say 50,000 people were going to show up.

  39. uh, yeah, spelling errors and all.

  40. What? I smell BS. Don’t they have concerts there? Does the music protect the grass? The founders our our republic would be weeping for what’s happening to dissent in this country.

    Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
    Thomas Jefferson

    It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.
    Benjamin Franklin

    If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter” (McCain and Feingold, take note)
    George Washington

  41. make that: The founders of our republic would be weeping…

  42. Speaking as a New Yorker – the West Side Highway might as well be a protest pen. Some offer – “Look, here’s a barren strip of asphalt where you can’t be seen or heard much! Perfect for your free speech!” Besides which, imagine trying to get an ambulance in and out if somebody has a problem… As for the park, it’s public space. If we don’t have the right to assemble in a public space, that right is pretty much meaningless. The kvetching about the lawn sounds pretty lame to me. “We spent a lot of money here – we can’t have you actually use it or anything.” If that justification is allowed, what’s to stop the city from just declaring that the lawn can’t take more than 40,000 people, or 10,000 people, or no assembly at all? Then again, I’m just ticked off that the city will spend $18M on the grass in Central Park but can’t keep homeless people from sleeping on my corner, can’t keep the rats out of our trash, and gives Con Ed a thumbs-up to use power tools on Broadway at 4am (triple overtime, anyone?)

  43. OK, suppose that it was a bright and sunny day in NYC, no convention in sight. And suppose that a whole bunch of people (say, 250,000) just showed up, without any organizers inviting them, and milled around on the lawn because they felt like being outdoors.

    Whom would the NYPD arrest?

    Now they bring out signs with political content. Grounds for arrest yet?

  44. Not to pick nits, but who is saying they cannot protest? They’re just being denied use of a particular area of city property. I DO think that they should get the go-ahead if they are willing to post a bond to cover the feared damage, etc., but otherwise this looks like a city that’s just covering it’s own backside.

  45. “The traditional use of a park is relaxation.”

    Yeah, I guess our founding fathers should’ve been relaxing, too, instead of being so loud and obnoxious. They were only disturbing the public order by taking over public spaces to air their treason. Patrick Henry should’ve been immediately hung.

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