January 10, 2012

NYCLU weighs in on rules used against OWS

New York Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street, New York, NY 10004

Jennifer Carnig, 212.607.3363 / jcarnig@nyclu.org
NLG Contact, Gideon Orion Oliver, 212.766.8050

Rights Groups Urge City to Halt Illegal Restrictions at Zuccotti Park


January 9, 2012 - Arbitrary and inconsistently applied rules and security
measures restricting the public's access to Zuccotti Park violate city
zoning laws, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Center for
Constitutional Rights, and the New York City chapter of the National
Lawyers Guild argued today in a letter to the New York City Department of

The groups urge Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri to promptly address
the violations and ensure that Zuccotti Park is open and accessible to all
members of the public on an equal basis.

"Right now, Zuccotti Park is a public space in name only," said NYCLU
Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "The metal barricades, security
checkpoints and selectively enforced rules not only raise serious
constitutional concerns, they violate city zoning laws. We expect the city
to ensure that the park is managed in a manner consistent with its own

Metal barricades have encircled Zuccotti Park since the NYPD cleared the
Occupy Wall Street encampment there on Nov. 16. The public can only enter
the park through two gaps where security personnel selectively subject
people to searches.

The groups maintain that these security measures and the constantly
changing, selectively enforced and unwritten park rules violate zoning
laws, longstanding city policies, and park-owner Brookfield Properties'
legal obligations under a 1968 special zoning permit that established the
park as a "permanently open park" for "the public benefit."

In its letter, the groups present a list of these violations. Among them:

* The metal barricades encircling the park violate a city voting law
requiring at least 50 percent of the plaza's frontage be unobstructed with
unrestricted access to all walkways through the park.

* The barricades and checkpoints interfere with the public's use and
enjoyment of the park, in violation of Brookfield's legal obligation to
maintain the space as a "permanent open park." People are reluctant to
enter an area encircled by metal police barricades.

* The barricades constitute a major design modification to the park.
Under zoning law, such modifications must go through a city approval
process, which has not occurred.

* Security personnel have prohibited individuals from bringing an
ever-changing list of items into the park, including food, cardboard signs,
musical instruments and yoga mats even though the park's written rules do
not prohibit any particular items from entering the park. The written rules
only apply to prohibited conduct.

"In a statement issued by Mayor Bloomberg explaining his decision to evict
peaceful protesters from Zuccotti Park, the mayor noted that 'we must never
be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws,'" said NYCLU Senior Staff
Attorney Taylor Pendergrass. "That is precisely what we are asking the City
to do now-comply with its own laws and restore the park to its role as a
functioning public space open to all New Yorkers."

"First Amendment freedoms are particularly vulnerable to selective
enforcement by the government," said Baher Azmy, legal director of the
Center for Constitutional Rights. "Like the constitution, City zoning law
also recognizes that in New York City's public plazas, members of the
public cannot be selectively targeted for the enforcement of patently
unreasonable restrictions."

"Brookfield and the City must remove these restrictions and restore Liberty
Park to the people immediately," said Gideon Orion Oliver, president of the
National Lawyers Guild - New York City Chapter. "Every day they refuse to
do so, they compound the irreparable harm they have done - and continue to
do - to our First Amendment freedoms."

In addition to the complaint filed today, others have made similar
complaints to the Department of Buildings. The Department of Buildings'
online complaint website shows an open complaint regarding the barricades
at Zuccotti Park, and the group "whOWNSspace" states that nearly 100
additional complaints have been filed by other individuals asking the
Department of Buildings to investigate the ongoing zoning law violations at
the park.

To read the full letter, visit

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