A Right to Sleep in Tents – Letter to the Editor NY Times

To the Editor:

Re “Bloomberg Says ‘Tent City’ Goes Beyond Free Speech” (news article, Oct. 17):

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s assertion that the Constitution doesn’t protect tents, but protects speech and assembly, is just wrong.

Unfortunately for those involved in Occupy Wall Street, tents are prohibited, a prohibition that may well be unconstitutional. This makes the occupation far more difficult. Occupiers are forced to sleep on the ground, and in inclement weather under plastic sheets.

In 2000 a federal judge upheld the First Amendment right of protesters to sleep on the sidewalks of New York, finding that such expressive conduct can be part of political protest. If protesters can sleep in public places, surely they can do so under a tent, especially if the weather turns bad.

In this case, sleeping in the park, occupying it, is integral to the message of the protest: occupying the location that protesters believe is at the heart of the great economic inequalities in this country and the world.

MICHAEL RATNER New York, Oct. 18, 2011

The writer, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is a co-author of “Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-Century America.”



Text of Article

Bloomberg Says ‘Tent City’ Goes Beyond Free Speech


OCT. 17, 2011

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, speaking Monday as Occupy Wall Street protesters celebrated the passage of a month encamped in Zuccotti Park, said he was trying to strike a balance between protecting protesters’ right to free speech and the needs of Lower Manhattan residents.

“The Constitution doesn’t protect tents,” he said at a news conference in Queens. “It protects speech and assembly.”

The mayor expressed concern that those exercising a “right to be silent” might be getting drowned out amid the din of the protests.

“We can’t have a place where only one point of view is allowed,” he said. “There are places where I think it’s appropriate to express yourself, and there are other places that are appropriate to set up Tent City. They don’t necessarily have to be one and the same.”

Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday found broad support for Occupy Wall Street; 72 percent of New York City voters, including 52 percent of Republicans, said the protesters should be able to stay as long as they wanted if they continued to obey the laws. The telephone survey, of 1,068 registered voters, was conducted from Thursday to Sunday.

Also on Monday, Manhattan prosecutors met with lawyers for the hundreds of people who have been arrested during Occupy Wall Street protests, as well as with a woman who was pepper-sprayed by a police officer during a march.

The lawyers representing many of those who were arrested said they had asked prosecutors to dismiss the charges against anyone rounded up during mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and at other demonstrations related to Occupy Wall Street. Martin R. Stolar, one of the protesters’ lawyers, said there was not enough evidence to prove the charges, most of which were for minor violations like disorderly conduct.

Even if prosecutors offer defendants what is known as an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal — a deal in which the charges are eventually dismissed if the person goes a certain period of time without being rearrested — Mr. Stolar said that “a substantial number of people” would decline the deal and “insist on going to trial and establishing their innocence.”

Erin M. Duggan, the spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said in a statement that every arrest that comes into the district attorney’s office “is assessed individually, and charging decisions are based on the evidence and circumstances unique to each case and defendant.”

In a separate meeting on Monday, Kaylee Dedrick, one of those who were pepper-sprayed near Union Square by a police deputy inspector, and her lawyer, Ronald L. Kuby, met for more than an hour with prosecutors and urged them to bring charges against the inspector, Anthony Bologna.

Prosecutors interviewed Ms. Dedrick and told her only that they would continue to investigate, Mr. Kuby said. He also represents another protester, Felix Rivera Pitre, who was seen on video being punched by an officer. In that case, Mr. Kuby said, prosecutors told him only that they were continuing to investigate.

At the news conference in Queens, the mayor was asked if he had spoken about the protests with his girlfriend, Diana L. Taylor, who is on the board of directors of Brookfield Office Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park.

“I can tell you that pillow talk in our house is not about Brookfield or Occupy Wall Street,” he said.

Mr. Bloomberg also joked about an impersonation of him on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, insisting that the show’s creator and producer, Lorne Michaels — with whom Mr. Bloomberg sat at a Yankees game this month — did not need to hire an actor to play him.

“I’ve got my SAG card,” the mayor said, referring to the Screen Actors Guild. “I’ve done this a number of times. My agent could negotiate a rate with him that he could afford to do.”