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For Your Safety, Stop Dissenting

The City of New York snubbed protestors and civil-liberties advocates by refusing to grant antiwar rally organizer United for Peace and Justice the right to march in the city’s streets on Saturday (Feb. 15).

What New York City representatives are calling security concerns set off a legal battle between city officials and protestors in the changed climate of post-Sept. 11 New York. Protestors and the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing UPJ, see it as a struggle for their First Amendment rights. The rally in New York, where organizers expect protestors to turn out in the hundreds of thousands, coincides with more than 350 rallies in cities globally.

The decision came from the New York Police Department in the form of testimony from Michael D. Esposito, Assistant Chief of Patrol Borough Manhattan South, in Federal District Court in Manhattan. Esposito appeared in court on Monday to explain why the NYPD didn’t want to allow protestors to march in Saturday’s rally. The judge, Barbara S. Jones, did not contradict the department. “The court,” she told The New York Times, “will not second-guess or substitute its judgment for that of the NYPD.”

The court’s decision, while prohibiting any movement, does allow for a protest confined to an area on First Avenue stretching north from 49th Street. While no one from the NYPD would comment, Katherine O’Brien Ahlers, spokeswoman for New York City Law Department, legal counsel for the NYPD, said that the NYPD was concerned about the large group of people expected to show up at the rally.

O’Brien Ahlers said the NYPD was concerned that it wouldn’t have “the ability to provide a safe environment for a protest of over 100,000 people.”

But Chris Dunn, senior staff counsel of the NYCLU, said the issue is not about safety.

“It’s absolutely a speech issue,” he said. “The very people that have organized this march have organized safe protests in the past. There is no reason to believe that this march couldn’t happen in a safe and orderly way.”

Despite what she calls “an assault on the right to assemble,” Erin O’Brien, a local organizer for Women Against War, said preparations for the rally are continuing as planned. Though tickets have sold out for WAW’s chartered buses, O’Brien said other transportation arrangements are being provided and can be found at the United for Peace and Justice Web site, www.unitedfor peace.org.

“Many people are carpooling, taking Amtrak, taking Greyhound,” O’Brien said. “We’re anticipating at least 1,000 people from the Capital District.”

—John Gallagher

Silent No More

George Ihlenburg can again speak freely about his frustrations with the Columbia County Family Court System.

At a contempt hearing on Feb. 7, surrogate Family Court Judge Christian F. Hummel dismissed the gag order barring Ihlenburg from sharing information about his struggles in Columbia County Family Court with the press, his pastor, even his own parents.

“The gag order was very broad in that it limited every aspect of free speech for George,” said Anita Thayer, Ihlenburg’s attorney.

As previously reported in Metroland (Newsfront, Nov. 14), Columbia County Family Court Judge Paul J. Czjaka gagged the Hudson plumber last June 19 for violating an order of protection held by Ihlenburg’s ex-wife. Ihlenburg violated the order of protection by participating in Hudson’s Flag Day parade where his wife was also present.

At last week’s contempt hearing, Ihlenburg said he willfully violated Czjaka’s gag order by speaking with Metroland, among other local media, about his struggles with the county’s family-court system. Ihlenburg also acknowledged that he took part in a community forum discussing family court issues at Time & Space Limited art warehouse in Hudson on Jan. 18. At the meeting, Ihlenburg expressed his frustration with the family-court system via video as he was serving part of a year’s sentence of weekends in jail, also stemming from the Flag Day incident.

Hummel held Ihlenburg in contempt of court at last week’s hearing, but waived the resulting six-month jail sentence under the condition that Ihlenburg share no specific information about his case, his ex-wife or their children with the press. Under the revised gag order, Ihlenburg will be allowed to vent his frustrations about family court and family law in general.

At the outset of the trial, Hummel announced that Czjaka would no longer oversee Ihlenburg’s court proceedings, as the judge had recused himself. Ihlenburg, who has long been asking Czjaka to step down from his case, said he was elated that Hummel, a family court judge in Rensselaer County, will oversee all further hearings.

“I’m trusting that [Hummel] will offer a clean slate,” Ihlenburg said. “This is all I’ve wanted for four years. There is some light at the end of the tunnel.”

—T.D.


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