Protesters can demonstrate outside of mayor's home, judge rules

A group of parents, students and teachers will be able to bring their protests nearly to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s doorstep, a federal judge ruled today.

The ruling sets the stage for what is likely to be one of the largest demonstrations against the city’s plan to close 20 schools and allow the expansion of charter schools inside many city school buildings.

Two students at a school slated for closure were among a group that sued this week for the right to rally outside the mayor’s home. They argue that the city has ignored their protests outside of the Department of Education’s Tweed Courthouse headquarters and at individual schools and want to bring the issue to the mayor’s door.

At issue in the suit was whether protesters would be able to demonstrate on the north side of 79th Street, directly in front of the mayor’s residence. The city police department, which has frequently denied requests to demonstrate outside the mayor’s home, had offered to allow the protesters to convene on the south side. Organizers declined to compromise, arguing that they have a civil right to protest on the public sidewalk.

Under the judge’s ruling, protesters will be allowed to gather on the southwest corner of 79th Street and Fifth Avenue and proceed to march along the full perimeter of the street (though not on the sidewalk) between Fifth and Madison Avenues.

“We feel obviously glad, first of all, that our First Amendment rights were protected,” said Julie Cavanagh, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and a teacher at P.S. 15, a district school that currently shares space with a charter that wants to expand.

“And we understand that comes with a big responsibility to hold a peaceful and orderly demonstration, which we know it will be,” she added.

The city plans to appeal the decision, city attorney Diana Murray said in a statement.

“While we appreciate the Court’s implicit finding that the Police Department was warranted in determining that there are special security concerns on the sidewalk adjacent to the Mayor’s residence and that those concerns justify the Department’s refusal to agree to a protest procession on that sidewalk, we believe that the Court was wrong in directing that demonstrators be permitted to walk in the pavement, along the curb on both sides of the street,” Murray said.

Cavanagh said that if the city wins its appeal, organizers will still protest on the mayor’s block, following the police department’s original compromise of sticking to the south side of the street.

“There are all kinds of reasons why that’s inadequate, as the judge mentioned today, but at the very least, the protest will go on there,” Cavanagh said.