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NYC activist arrested again – this time for selling papers without a permit

By David Hudson
First Amendment Center


Street artist R...
Street artist Robert Lederman.

Artist-advocate Robert Lederman, who earlier this year filed a civil lawsuit against New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other city officials, was arrested Tuesday on charges of selling city newspapers without a permit in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lederman's latest run-in with city law enforcement officials came while he and 24 other members of his group, Artists' Response to Illegal State Tactics or A.R.T.I.S.T., sold newspapers on Department of Parks property without a permit to protest last Sunday's arrest of artist Patrick Christiano.

The artists were protesting Christiano's recent arrest, which they said flew in the face of an Aug. 12 decision by Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Lucy Billings dismissing criminal charges against three artists for selling artwork in public parks. Billings wrote in People v. Balmuth that "no license, permit or similar authorization requirement may be imposed on persons displaying or selling written materials, including artwork, in public spaces."

Lederman said that although 25 artists protested and sold newspapers, only he was actually taken into custody.

Lederman was charged with selling newspapers without a permit, failure to comply with orders to stop selling newspapers and with disorderly conduct. "I was arrested for disorderly conduct because I kept selling newspapers and discussing the Constitution," he said.

Department of Parks and Recreation officers and city police officers confiscated more than 100 copies of several papers, including The New York Times, the New York Daily News and the New York Post, among others, Lederman said.

Thomas Rozinski, general counsel for the Department of Parks, said that "there was no attempt to single Lederman out."

Rozinski, who was present at the time of the arrest, said law enforcement officials asked all the vendors who were selling newspapers without a permit to leave. They then came back and cited those artists who refused to leave. Rozinski said that when officers came back a third time, Lederman was the only vendor who was still selling newspapers.

"All the vendors were treated the same. Mr. Lederman refused to heed repeated warnings, even after he had been issued a summons," Rozinski said. "He wanted to be arrested to make his political point."

Lederman disagreed, saying: "I do not want and never want to be arrested, but I do want to have First Amendment freedoms and I am not willing to give them up when I shouldn't have to."

Lederman said his disorderly conduct charge came as no surprise because he has been charged with resisting arrest in the past because he cited the First Amendment.

Lederman said that Tuesday's incident was the "worst" of his 34 arrests. "I was held for five hours in a concrete room that had no window or air. It was a stinky, filthy room and could aptly be described as a sweltering concrete box. It was a horrifying experience. I wasn't even allowed to have a drink of water."

Rozinski responded: "It sounds like a jail cell. That is what happens when people go to jail. It has been hot in New York City."

Lederman issued the following statement after his release: "During our four-and-a-half year struggle with the Giuliani administration, many people, including many newspaper reporters, have had difficulty understanding why street artists were making such a big deal about needing a license or permit. [Tuesday's] confiscation of hundreds of copies of the City's top newspapers should make it clear to anyone interested in the reality of free speech that allowing Mayor Giuliani to oppress one group's speech will eventually affect the speech rights of every person in this city."

However, Rozinski said that Billings' ruling in People v. Balmuth was "wrongly decided" and the city will "continue to enforce its permit requirement."

Lederman said: "By arresting me for selling newspapers, the city crossed a line that exposes the pattern of constitutional violations that are the hallmark of the Giuliani administration."


Filmmaker highlights struggles of NYC's street booksellers

Documentary 'is a dramatic example of how far government will go … to seek to oppress people who are trying to spread the written word,' says John Seigenthaler. 09.20.00

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