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Robert Lederman

Advocate of Free Expresson

Robert Lederman

A NYC street artist and intellectual, Robert Lederman has defended the rights of artists and vendors to sell their wares on the city streets. He has been arrested more than 40 times and has won many favourable court rulings and lawsuits.

On April 6, 2002, NYC cops and sanitation workers seized the carts and inventory of several vendors and compacted them in the garbage truck.

This went further than even Rudy Giuliani had gone in his efforts to make the streets sterile and boring for tourists who derive comfort from homogeneity.

Below, is Lederman's letter to Mayor Bloomberg


US Court Strikes Down Capitol Demonstration Ban

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday struck down a ban on demonstrations on the sidewalk at the foot of the steps in front of the U.S. Capitol, ruling it violates free-speech rights.

The unanimous three-judge panel upheld a First Amendment constitutional challenge to the rules, which prohibit "demonstration activity" such as parading, picketing, leafleting, vigils, sit-ins and speechmaking.

The appeals court ruled the sidewalk, leading to the House of Representatives and Senate steps, was a public forum where tourists may view and photograph the Capitol, and that no part of the ban was "narrowly tailored to further a significant governmental purpose."

Judge David Tatel wrote the sidewalk wraps around the Capitol almost without interruption, giving pedestrians access to the entire front of the building, which he called a centerpiece of U.S. democracy.

The case involved Robert Lederman, an artist who demonstrated outside the Capitol in an effort to publicize a lawsuit he and others brought to sell their work on public sidewalks in New York City.

Two Capitol police officers in 1997 arrested Lederman, who was distributing leaflets and carrying a sign saying, "Stop Arresting Artists." He later was acquitted when a judge in the city's Superior Court found the ban unconstitutional.

Lederman then sued in federal court, challenging the ban's constitutionality and seeking damages for his arrest from various parties, including the two police officers.

The court rejected the argument by government lawyers that the sidewalk functioned as a "security perimeter" around the Capitol and therefore justified the demonstration ban.

"We reject the proposition that demonstrators of any stripe pose a greater security risk to the Capitol building and its occupants than do pedestrians, who may come and go anonymously, travel in groups of any size, carry any number of bags and boxes and linger as long as they please," Tatel said.

"If people entering and leaving the Capitol can avoid running headlong into tourists, joggers, dogs and strollers ..., then we assume they are also capable of circumnavigating the occasional protester," he said.

"A single leafleteer standing on the east front sidewalk will no more likely block traffic or threaten security than will photographers, star-struck tourists and landscape painters," Tatel said, noting that no effort has been made to keep them away from the Capitol.

The appeals court ordered that an injunction be entered barring enforcement of the demonstration ban.

It also ruled that the two police officers did not violate any clearly established legal rules in arresting Lederman and enjoyed "qualified immunity" shielding them from the lawsuit.

The demonstration ban was adopted by the Capitol Police Board, consisting of the sergeant of arms at both the House and Senate. Federal law gives the board the power to adopt such regulations.


4/10/2002

Mayor Mike Bloomberg City Hall New York, N.Y. 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

I represent the street artists of New York City. As you may know, I and my group A.R.T.I.S.T. fought an eight year long struggle with the Giuliani administration about our Constitutional rights. The full details are on the websites listed above. We've won a number of Federal lawsuits and are now as fully protected by the First Amendment as is the NY Times or Bloomberg News.

New York City street artists

When you were elected Mayor the street artists breathed a sigh of relief thinking, finally, here's a Mayor with a media background who can understand and respect the First Amendment.

To our surprise, the most blatant violation of our rights that has ever occurred took place this past weekend in SoHo on Saturday 4/6/2002, executed while you were Mayor.

Police officers from the First Precinct commandeered a NYC Sanitation truck then seized and methodically destroyed the property of numerous members of my group by having it crushed in the truck. This was not an accident but a carefully planned operation which is now being investigated by NYPD internal affairs. We have photographs and eyewitness accounts and the police have not denied that this took place.

In 1994 Rudy Giuliani began his term in office by targeting the street artists in SoHo. Having voted for Giuliani I urged the members of A.R.T.I.S.T., which was then a brand new group, not to attack the Mayor but to give him a chance to respond and set things right. I respectfully negotiated with members of his administration, but we got nowhere.

The rest is history. I and my group eventually became Rudy Giuliani's most persistent, most visible and most determined critics.

I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt, to assume that you are not as yet aware of what happened this past Saturday in SoHo and that once you find out about it, you will immediately set things straight. As in 1994 the members of my group are clamoring for me to begin organizing protests, this time against you.

Robert Lederman

I've contacted a number of your deputy Mayors and your press secretary, Ed Skyler, who knows me for a few years, about what happened and asked them to convey this message to you. I hope that by now they've done so.

In 1994 Rudy Giuliani seriously underestimated the ability of street artists to win in court or to affect his image. He laughed us off in 1994 but by 1995 and right through the rest of his term in office he wasn't laughing.

You'll find my Giuliani portraits and signs in media coverage of him by every media outlet in the world. Our lawsuits against Giuliani are studied in universities and law schools across America. Mr. Skyler can attest to our determination once aroused.

We are now aroused.

Eight years of being abused is enough. The City has already wasted millions of dollars on our lawsuits with millions more still pending. How much the Giuliani administration spent falsely arresting us and pretending to prosecute our cases (in eight years not one case was ever prosecuted against a NYC street artist) is probably impossible to accurately estimate.

Our current pending lawsuit, Lederman et al v Giuliani has already been decided in our favor by four different courts. Yet, Giuliani-like, your Corporation Counsel is appealing yet again.

Meanwhile, throughout the City, the NYPD is harassing street artists in ways that could almost make us miss Rudy Giuliani. What happened in SoHo on Saturday is just one particularly graphic example. Even at his most excessive Mayor Giuliani never had our property crushed in a garbage truck.

Mr. Mayor, I am appealing to you as a lifelong New Yorker who wants very much to see you succeed, to please not ignore this issue. You've made it clear that you are not Rudy Giuliani, which I think is a wise decision. I hope you will not fall into the same trap of underestimating street artists.

We may not have lots of money but we do have an extraordinary degree of access to the public and to the media through being on the street everyday. This coming Saturday, weather permitting, we will be in SoHo on West Broadway.

I invite you to come down there and address what happened. I will be on West Broadway between Prince Street and Spring.

I also invite you to set up a meeting between myself and one of your aides in order to discuss the general issue of street artist harassment by the NYPD and the specific issue of compensating those whose property was destroyed on 4/6. Perhaps for once we can work this out without it being necessary to file still more lawsuits.

I hope in the very near future to be able to tell street artists and the people of New York City that Mike Bloomberg is indeed a man who respects the First Amendment and artists. I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely Yours,

Robert Lederman