The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition is announcing today plans to distribute tens of thousands of leaflets at New York City subway stops today and tomorrow morning informing people of their basic rights regarding the use of the Great Lawn and Central Park. The leaflet states “tens of thousands of New Yorkers use the Great Lawn and Central Park every weekend. You do not need a permit to come to the Park.” The Parks Department does not require a permit for “casual park use by visitors.” The denial of the permit prevents the NCA and A.N.S.W.E.R. from having a rally with a stage and sound, but it is obvious that many individuals who were planning to attend will go to Central Park on Saturday, and on other days through the next week.
The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition and the National Council of Arab Americans applied for a permit to be in the Great Lawn for a mass rally in defense of the civil rights and civil liberties of the Arab and Muslim community. The permit, which was applied for in January 2004, was denied in mid-June. This week, U.S. federal court judge William Pauley III refused to grant a preliminary injunction against the city, which would have directed the issuance of the permit. The judge’s decision did not state that the Great Lawn and Central Park were off-limits, and indeed, the court suggested that the city and the permit applicant could still work out an agreement for the use of the Great Lawn. A.N.S.W.E.R. and the NCA addressed every specific problem that had been raised by the city, and yet the city refused to discuss use of the Great Lawn.
“Thousands of people intended to come to the rally. They believe they have the right to be in Central Park. We have been denied the right to sponsor a rally on August 28 on the Great Lawn. The fact is that people are coming to Central Park on August 28 and on other days in the following week, and it is their constitutional right to do so,” stated Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition. Becker continued, “we are handing out thousands of leaflets to inform everyone that the park does not require a permit for casual park use by visitors, and we are telling them that if they are bringing signs or drums, or other musical instruments, what the specific regulations state. Individuals have the right, for instance, to bring anti-war or anti-Bush signs to the Great Lawn if they are no more than 2 feet in height and 3 feet in length. They can also bring a drum, but they cannot use the drum in parklands between the night-time hours of 10 PM and 8 AM.”
“The litigation we filed was based on the fact that the Mayor and the city have provided access to the Great Lawn for those who have corporate or government sponsorship, while they denied permits to people who are protesting Bush’s domestic and foreign policy. The denial of free speech assembly is content-based, it is not neutral. Some are favored, and others are disfavored,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice and the National Lawyers Guild. Verheyden-Hilliard was the lead attorney in the litigation filed in federal court.
“What was revealed by the litigation, the statements of the defendants in court filings, and in open court and in the communication between the NCA and A.N.S.W.E.R. with the city, was that the Mayor and the city were determined to obstruct the granting of a permit for the Great Lawn to these applicants no-matter what,” stated Verheyden-Hilliard. “We know for a fact now, as a consequence of the legal and political challenge that was initiated with the filing of our lawsuit on August 13, 2004, that the Mayor is determined to historically alter the use of the Great Lawn and Central Park. Traditionally understood as the heart of New York City and a democratic tradition, the Mayor is determined to make the Great Lawn a preserve for corporate sponsors. Using the renovation of the Lawn as a pretext, the use of Central Park is in fact becoming privatized. It is essential to continue the fight to preserve the essence of free speech rights, including the right for mass assembly protests in New York City.”
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To get involved in the local activities, contact the A.N.S.W.E.R. office in New York City at 212-533-0417 (please take note of this number for all inquiries).