Aw, how sweet of the National Park Service to set up a little "First Amendment Rights Area" on the steps of Federal Hall! This new map on the official website shows how the Park police are doing their best to accommodate our nation's annoying "free speech" laws. Do you have a political opinion that you want to express? Just keep your lips sealed until you are securely stationed behind the barricades, then rant to your heart's content! (Any loud free speech after nightfall, however, will not be tolerated.)
Earlier this week we reported that the NYPD had set up barricades dividing the steps into a space for tourists and a space for Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. Now, for the time being at least, the National Park Service has made it official, with a designated First Amendment Rights Zone. According to one protester, the NYPD is "preventing the public from interacting with protesters in the 'freedom cage' at Federal Hall." In order to be fair, they're now going to have to set up a Second Amendment cage for the Tea Party (preferably one with a firing range).
The current situation at Federal Hall isn't the first of its kind, according to DCist editor Martin Austermuhle. "In Washington, D.C., two Occupy D.C. encampments popped up on land controlled by the federal government—McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza," says Austermuhle. "This meant that any enforcement actions, like the February eviction of occupiers from McPherson Square, were the responsibility of the U.S. Park Police, not D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department. (City officials were left frustrated that they couldn't even enforce health regulations at the encampments.)
"It also meant that the politics of policing Occupy D.C. got significantly more complicated. At a January congressional hearing, National Park Service officials came under intense scrutiny from Republicans for not evicting occupiers for breaking a law that forbids camping in some national parks, including McPherson Square."
Here in NYC, Occupy protesters sought refuge at Federal Hall after the NYPD stopped them from sleeping on the sidewalk near the Stock Exchange. On their first night there, Park officers let them be, but the NYPD made ten arrests, frequently singling out protesters who seemingly did nothing wrong, and in some cases violently detaining them. Here's video.