commerce in times of war: protestor at Crossgates Mall.
Photo by John Whipple
the T-Shirt Fits
for explanations of Crossgates Mall’s policy on “disruptive”
attire—and for a promise not to silence peaceful self-expression
According to Pyramid Mall Management, it’s business as usual
at Crossgates Mall.
In the wake of last week’s trespassing arrest of a man who
refused to remove a T-shirt bearing a peace slogan, and the
protests and international media blitz that followed, Pyramid,
which owns Crossgates and a number of other malls statewide,
insists that its policies on disruptive behavior and attire
have not changed.
Pyramid did not return phone calls for this story, but the
company’s official statement regarding last week’s incident
reads, “Crossgates Mall does not, nor has it ever had, a policy
of selective enforcement. Rather, our policy focuses on rules
of conduct, which strictly prohibit loitering, disorderly
or disruptive conduct, harassment, offensive language, fighting,
or other activities that could be deemed illegal.”
But since the arrest of Stephen Downs on March 3, mall management’s
actions have run counter to its rhetoric.
Since last week’s arrest, two protests brought hundreds of
demonstrators to the shopping center, and almost all of the
protesters wore shirts or carried signs bearing peace or antiwar
messages. Yet mall management granted those individuals their
First Amendment rights—no arrests were made and no one was
asked to leave the mall.
Downs and his son, Roger, purchased custom-made T-shirts bearing
peace slogans from a vendor in Crossgates on March 3. They
were subsequently stopped by mall security and asked to remove
the shirts. Roger Downs complied, but Stephen refused, saying
he was exercising his right to freedom of expression. The
security guard said a shopper had complained that Downs was
causing a disturbance and asked him to remove the shirt or
face arrest. Downs refused and was arrested by Guilderland
Police for wearing a T-shirt that read, “Peace on Earth” and
“Give Peace a Chance.”
there is behavior that is creating a public disturbance, it
is the behavior of mall management, and not people shopping
in the mall and wearing T-shirts,” said Women Against War
activist Erin O’Brien, who helped organize the protests.
O’Brien said her group had been notified that Crossgates had
been asking shoppers wearing peace- or antiwar-related garb
to leave the mall since October 2002, but did not act on it
until December of last year. As previously reported in Metroland
[Newsfront, Jan. 9], 22 people wearing peace-related messages
on their T-shirts while Christmas shopping were escorted from
the mall by Crossgates security in December. Though angered
by the event, O’Brien said Women Against War decided not to
take action, acknowledging the mall management has a right,
as a private business, to stop group protests. But O’Brien
said Crossgates had pushed too far with the arrest of Downs.
I was contacted that Downs was arrested because he refused
to leave the mall [for] wearing an antiwar T-shirt, I thought
this was getting out of control,” O’Brien said. “He clearly
was not part of a protest. He’d just heard the same things
we’d heard and couldn’t believe that it was true.”
On March 5, a few days after Downs’ arrest, more than 100
people, including representatives from Women Against War,
protested the mall’s actions. Following the protest and a
torrent of negative press, both domestic and abroad, management
decided to drop the charges against Downs.
But Pyramid never admitted any wrongdoing in its official
statement about the incident.
So who was to blame for the events that brought international
infamy to the Guilderland shopping center? Ask Robert Williams.
Williams was the decorated, 10-year-veteran security guard
who enforced the mall’s policy and, after first checking with
his superior, asked Guilderland Police to arrest Downs. On
Friday (March 7), Williams was fired from his job at Crossgates.
absolutely think they were looking for a scapegoat,” said
Williams. “I just did what I was instructed to do by my superiors,
and was even told I did a good job [by assistant director
of security Fred Tallman] after the fact. Yet here I sit without
a job. For some reason [management] thought people wouldn’t
see this for what it is, but it is kind of plain as day.”
Pyramid has not commented on Williams’ dismissal.
firing of Robert Williams is blatant scapegoating,” said O’Brien.
“It is a way for the mall to avoid apologizing to the general
public and admitting they made a mistake.”
The owners of Mugs & More, the silk-screening shop in
the mall where the Downs had their T-shirts printed, were
loath to speak in much detail about last week’s events for
fear of upsetting mall management. But Anandam, one of the
store’s owners, did say that he has refused requests to print
some messages in the past. Downs’ request just did not seem
to call for censorship.
just do what we feel is right,” said Anandam. “If you want
to express your feelings, we are here to do that. That is
our business and that is what we did for that man that day.”
Anandam did say that he has sold a number of peace-related
T-shirts since last week’s events. On Sunday, some shoppers
were even placing orders by name: “I’d like a Downs shirt.”
Though state law currently says that malls are private property,
O’Brien said it is ludicrous for mall management to quash
an individual’s right to expression over an issue as divisive
as war with Iraq.
Members of Women Against War are engaged in discussions with
mall management calling for a public apology for last week’s
incidents, and asking Pyramid to change how its enforces its
“disruptive attire” policy. The two groups will meet again
tomorrow (Friday, March 14), and the antiwar activists are
threatening to start a “virtual protest” against Pyramid—a
letter- and e-mail-writing and phone campaign—should the two
not come to terms.
said to us in negotiations repeatedly that we won’t win, and
they will still have 22 million shoppers [a year] in that
mall,” O’Brien said. “We’re telling them [they will] not;
this is an end to business as usual.”
What’s a Little Spying Among
surveillance campaign targeting U.N. delegates receives little
attention in U.S. media
The United States’ latest “dirty tricks” campaign—alleged
spying on U.N. delegates—made headlines in the international
press after being leaked from the National Security Agency
and reported by The Observer in London on March 2.
However, the news hasn’t received as much attention in America.
Observer reported evidence of aggressive surveillance
of several United Nations delegates in New York, described
in a memorandum turned over to the paper. The NSA’s surveillance
reportedly involved tapping home and office telephones, and
intercepting delagates’ e-mails.
The story was reported in the American press, but didn’t seem
to cause much of a disturbance. In a March 9 article published
by the national media watch group Fairness and Accuracy In
Reporting (www.fair.org), Norman Solomon highlights the issue.
U.S. media treatment has contrasted sharply with coverage
on other continents,” the article said. “ ‘While some have
taken a ho-hum attitude in the U.S., many around the world
are furious,’ says Ed Vulliamy, one of the Observer reporters
who wrote the March 2 article.”
memo turned over to The Observer was written by Frank
Kozo, the chief of staff of the Regional Targets section of
the NSA, and addressed to senior NSA officials. The Bush administration
has neither denied nor confirmed the authenticity of the memo.
Kozo reportedly directed the officials in the memo to mount
a surge of surveillance in an effort to ascertain delegates’
“policies,” “negotiating positions,” “alliances” and “dependencies”—what
was described in the memo as “the whole gamut of information
that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results
favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises.”
Delegates from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and
Pakistan were the reported targets of the spying. The six
countries are the targets of intense pressure from Great Britain
and the United States to sway their votes in favor of a resolution
that would present Iraq with a deadline for disarmament and
authorize the use of force if it failed to comply. The antiwar
camp, led by France, China and Russia, is also fighting for
the votes for more time for inspections.
Jonathan Tepperman, an expert on the United Nations with the
Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, said that the
news doesn’t come as a shock within the United Nations.
much less a story within the United Nations than it is outside,”
Tepperman said. “Everybody is always spying on everybody else
at places like the U.N., trying to gain leverage however possible.”
News of the spying may not sway the delegates, but it stands
to have a more profound influence over people around the world,
many of whom already do not support the war.
know that this is not anything out of the ordinary, so I don’t
think it will change their calculus. [However], it may slightly
harden opposition among international publics to the United
States,” said Tepperman.
Spying aside, the United States has resounded a certain hostility
in its diplomacy to the U.N.—tactics that recently incited
two United States diplomats to resign, citing the Bush administration’s
policy on Iraq specifically as the cause. John H. Brown—a
22-year veteran diplomat who served in London, Prague and
Moscow, among other places—stepped down Monday of this week,
and John Brady Kiesling, a diplomat based in Athens, took
permanent leave a month ago.
has incessantly caused the Bush administration problems: that
it does not negotiate carefully and it that throws its weight
around,” Tepperman said.
The threat of forgoing the U.N. appeared to many in the international
community to be a hostile act.
has been very heavy-handed in their diplomacy,” Tepperman
said. “One of the things that they have done that has generated
so much animosity is that they’ve said, ‘We want this resolution,
but we’re going to go to war whether we get it or not.’ While
the American government doesn’t put a lot of stock in the
U.N., other countries do, so they view that threat as pretty
The Bush administration has argued from the beginning for
the United States’ role as a catalyst for action at the United
However, the leak fell at a time of growing animosity toward
the Bush administration’s aggressive diplomacy, and may be
a direct result of this kind of opposition.
The Observer ran two follow-up articles a week later
(March 9). One followed the arrest of a 28-year-old woman
working at the top secret Government Communication Headquarters
in Britain under suspicion of leaking the document to the
press. The other stated, in part, “The real significance of
this story is what this rare public disclosure . . . tells
us about the atmosphere at the United Nations. . . .”
Tepperman agreed that the atmosphere is tense, and delegates
stand divided over the U.S. push for war.
are reasons why it’s helpful to have allies,” Tepperman said.
“When you generate a lot of hostility as [the Bush administration]
has done by consistently snubbing its allies, it can come
back to bite you.”
1,500 SUNY and CUNY students from campuses across the
state attended a rally at the Capitol Tuesday (March
11) protesting the higher-education cuts Gov. George
Pataki proposed in his executive budget earlier this
year. With New York facing a two-year, $12 billion budget
deficit, Pataki proposed increasing tuition by $1,200
at all SUNY and CUNY schools, cutting aid to the Tuition
Assistance Program and reducing aid to the Educational
Opportunity Programs. Representatives from the New York
Public Interest Research Group, which organized the
rally, said hundreds of the students who attended the
rally participated in the 561-mile “No Tuition Hike,”
where students started from the Buffalo State College
and SUNY Stony Brook (Long Island) campuses and marched
to the Capitol over the past three weeks. Pataki was
not present at the rally, but it was attended by Assembly
Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Ronald Canestrari
(D-Cohoes), who voiced their support for the students.