As the protests against corporate greed and the “occupation” of the Financial District continues for a third day, at least seven demonstrators have been arrested. According to Bloomberg News, two were arrested for trying to enter a Bank of America building, another for jumping a police barrier, and four more for “wearing masks in violation of a law that bars two or more participants from doing so.” This law dates back to 1845 in the Anti-Rent era—a time when a wealthy few owned feudal-esque leases to maintain control of tenants. Absolutely nothinglike today!
According to a Time’s Up! volunteer, one of the four arrested on mask charges was actually nabbed for “writing with chalk on the sidewalk,” and we’re told a police captain actually “leaped forward” over the barricade to arrest that demonstrator, who explains that he was arrested because he “placed his hand” on a barricade and didn’t have time to move away after a verbal warning. CityRoom confirms that their photographer did not witness the man attempting to jump the barricade. The NYPD maintains he did.
The anti-mask statute was passed as a response to the actions of rabble-rousing renters, seeking to prevent “distress sales” of their property by their landlords, dressing up as “Indians” to protect their rights and property. N.Y. Penal Law § 240.35(4) cropped back up in the news 11 years ago, when the KKK petitioned to wear masks protesting in the city. They were prohibited from doing so because of the statute, and sued. The USDC for the Southern District of New York sided with the KKK, and ruled the law unconstitutional, but not before protesters were arrested in 2002 for the same offense.
However, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which included current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, reversed that ruling in 2004, noting that because the KKK was already wearing a hood and robe, “the expressive force of the mask is, therefore, redundant.” The judges also noted that the “individual’s right to speech must always be balanced against the state’s interest in safety, and its right to regulate conduct that it legitimately considers potentially dangerous.”
Around 70 signs were reportedly stolen overnight by the NYPD as they maintained 24-hour surveillance of the area, which is being occupied by demonstrators in tents and sleeping bags.
I hope those arrested challenge their arrests on First Amendment grounds. This law seems to be constitutionally specious at best. If you’re arrested, attempt to document and/or remember everything. Then, call 212-679-6018 for the National Lawyer’s Guild, or 212-607-3300 for the ACLU. Write these numbers on your arm in sharpie.
I stand in solidarity with those occupying Wall Street. Stay strong.
Estoy en solidaridad con las personas que ocupan Wall Street. Por favor mantenga fuerte en la actualidad.