Newly Released Documents Show NYC Officials Decided to Ban Mass Rallies

Newly Released Court Case Documents Show NYC Mayor and Officials
Decided in Advance to Ban Mass Rallies on the Great Lawn
of Central Park During the Republican National Convention

Internal e-mails and memoranda show City officials, including the Mayor, were active participants in a pre-arranged plan to deny large protests on the Great Lawn.

According to documents released Monday, July 31, by the Partnership for Civil Justice, and reported in the New York Times, the Mayor of New York, the Commissioner of the Parks Department and other city officials were intentionally depriving anti-war and civil rights assemblies from taking place during the Republican National Convention while giving other reasons and rationales to the public and the press, and the courts for their decision.

In one such internal e-mail the Parks Department writes, "It is very important that we do not permit any big or political events for the period between Aug. 23 and Sept. 6, 2004....It's really important for us to keep track of any large events (over 1,000 people), and any rallies or events that seem sensitive or political in nature."

Campaign to Defend
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The ongoing legal struggle to allow the continued use of park land and public spaces for mass assembly protest can succeed by mobilizing public opinion to defend this cherished right. People from all walks of life must make it clear to the government that they support this effort. Sign up now to defend our free speech rights.

The struggle to keep Central Park open for mass assembly protests is just one battle. Around the country we are witnessing state and federal government efforts to suppress free speech activities of the growing opposition movement through restricting lawful permits and access to public land, deployment of police to disrupt and bar assembly, and use of domestic spying operations on political protestors and organizations.

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The Partnership for Civil Justice (PCJ), which brought the initial constitutional rights litigation in 2004 against the City for its efforts to ban political assembly on the Great Lawn, has continued to fight the court battle to end the City's unconstitutional permitting practices and illegal use of political discretion to bar free speech activities.

The civil rights lawsuit was brought on behalf of the National Council of Arab Americans (NCA) and the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) when the City denied their permit application to hold a civil rights and anti-war rally on the Great Lawn of Central Park planned for August 28, 2004 the anniversary of Dr. King's historic 1963 March on Washington. The City also denied the right to use the Great Lawn for a large-scale protest on August 29, 2004. This litigation has shown that the reasons given for the denials of the permits for both August 28 and August 29 were false.

Mayor Bloomberg's Role

"Mayor Michael Bloomberg did everything to convince the Republican National Committee to hold its election year convention in New York City. These newly released documents now reveal what so many suspected, that the Mayor also was directly involved in the decisions to ban large-scale mass assembly rallies in the Great Lawn of Central Park, the only venue available in Manhattan for such protest, as part of a highly politicized decision-making process," stated Carl Messineo, co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice and attorney for plaintiffs.

"Our ongoing litigation on behalf of those who sought permits to stage protest during the RNC addresses the larger constitutional issue: do political officials have the right to determine what organizations and what message can be allowed on public parkland? It was clear from the efforts by the Parks Department and their representations in the Court trying to thwart our First Amendment litigation that the City officials' real goal was to transfer mass political rallies out of Manhattan to Queens or one of the other outlying boroughs," continued Mr. Messineo. "If they were to succeed it would constitute a historic reversal of legal rights and the democratic tradition that New York City symbolizes."

E-mails and memoranda address discussions with Mayor Bloomberg, including one document that reports, "We are thrilled that he supported the idea of not having any rallies on lawns in [Central Park]," followed by an email directing that the meeting with the Mayor be "toned down." Another document shows that the Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe reported directly to the Mayor that he personally spent the day of August 28 on the Great Lawn of Central Park monitoring it for protestors after the permit for the NCA and ANSWER civil rights rally was denied.

Support the Ongoing Free Speech Lawsuit

The documents were obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice as part of its ongoing free speech lawsuit against the City of New York and Mayor Bloomberg challenging the attempt to privatize Central Park and make it off limits to mass political assembly, while at the same time allowing corporate-sponsored, politically approved events.

The documents released today reflect the internal discussions of city officials in denying the permits while they were simultaneously telling the press and the courts other reasons for the denials. The documents also reveal that the sworn statements made to the Court by City officials presenting the ever shifting bases for denial were false.

"This litigation is challenging the privatization of our public parklands," stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice and attorney for the plaintiffs. "When Time-Warner/AOL and other corporate sponsors want to use the Great Lawn for huge events they are approved, but when people want to protest Bush Administration policies, suddenly the grass is too delicate," she added.

Read the Documents Online

The documents are available at

The Partnership’s litigation has successfully challenged unconstitutional government conduct and policies including illegal permitting schemes that interfere with or prohibit the exercise of free speech activities. The Partnership for Civil Justice also first exposed the use of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces against political dissenters, and revealed that the District of Columbia police department had been carrying out an illegal ongoing domestic spying operation in which officers were sent on long-term assignments to pose as political activists. PCJ’s First Amendment litigation has been featured on NOW with Bill Moyers and in the movie Unconstitutional.

An excerpt from the New York Times

When city officials denied demonstrators access to the Great Lawn in Central Park during the 2004 Republican National Convention, political advocates and ordinary New Yorkers accused Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of squelching demonstrations that could embarrass fellow Republicans during their gathering. The Bloomberg administration denied being guided by politics in banning the protests. Instead, officials said they were motivated by a concern for the condition of the expensively renovated Great Lawn or by law enforcement's ability to secure the crowd. But documents that have surfaced in a federal lawsuit over the use of the Great Lawn paint a different picture, of both the rationale for the administration's policy and the degree of Mr. Bloomberg's role in enforcing it. Read the rest of the article.

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