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Disrupting commerce in times of war: protestor at Crossgates Mall. Photo by John Whipple

If the T-Shirt Fits

Shopping 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.”

“If 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.

“When 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.

“I 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.

“The 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.

“We 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.

“They 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.”

—Travis Durfee

What’s a Little Spying Among Allies?

U.S. 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.

The 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.

“The 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.”

The 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.

“It’s 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.

“Governments 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.

“This 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.

“Washington 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 troublesome.”

The Bush administration has argued from the beginning for the United States’ role as a catalyst for action at the United Nations.

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.

“There 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.”

—John Gallagher

Shannon DeCelle

Mission Tuition Freeze

Roughly 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.



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