Boston Police arrest man for failing to secure a permit to exercise his right to free speech

When police ordered Alan Nystedt of Haverhill to fold up his folding chair and remove himself and his shopping cart from in front of St. Paul's Cathedral on Tremont Street yesterday, he refused. And because he didn't have a permit to "occupy a city sidewalk," they arrested him.

Police say Nystedt had set up shop in front of the church to protest something involving the church (the BPDNews report does not specify what; anybody remember seeing him?).

On arrival, officers observed a white male seated in a wooden director's chair sitting next to a cart filled with religious paraphernalia. The suspect was handing out the paraphernalia while occupying the public sidewalk. Moreover, the suspect was displaying a sign with written statements criticizing and protesting the church. ...

Police say they asked him to move twice - and asked if he had a permit. When he refused to move and said he had no permit, he was taken in, police say.

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    The transcription of the

    The transcription of the ordinance on the city's website isn't really complete. It really states that occupying city property and not displaying a permit while performing any activity that requires a permit is prohibited.

    If he needed a permit to protest on city property then he was potentially breaking the ordinance.

    Handing out leaflets on a public sidewalk

    is a protected First Amendment activity, especially if the content of the leaflets is some sort of political protest. I don't see how the city can legally require a permit for handing out leaflets. The ACLU may want to take an interest in this.

    Now if he was blocking the sidewalk with his stuff, not allowing a clear path wide enough for a wheelchair, that may be a different issue.

    some speech restrictions ok

    Ron,

    If the city's regulations are content-neutral, they're probably constitutional. Without spending a couple hours on Lexis, I can't say for sure, but the general principle is that the government may restrict time, place or manner of certain speech, but it must do so without regard to the content of the speech.

    Regardless, what probably happened here is that the arrestee was a vagrant or mentally ill or in some other way causing a disturbance. I suspect the police would rather not have had to deal with him at all and would have much preferred his acquiescing to their request to move.

    If they arrested him for the content of his speech, that would be illegal.

    CP

    claim of action?

    So if a person in St Paul's - in front of which the man was protesting - called the cops and asked to have the protester removed because his protest was critical of the church, then the man has a claim of action?

    it still..

    Thanks, we all saw that on the first page on the city website we looked at too. How about finding the cited ordinance?

    Note which divisions are involved in permitting and enforcement. Inspectional Services is in charge of enforcement, though I'm not sure it prevents BPD from writing it up. I doubt it's an arrestable offense, hence the "disturbing the peace" charge, which is the standard way of arresting someone you can't really arrest who is upset you're giving them an unlawful order, and not respectin' yer au-thor-a-tay.

    If you're curious about how other cities abuse that charge, look to the recent incident where a bunch of people were harassed and one was arrested for dancing while listening (via their headphones) to music on the steps of one of the DC memorials.

    meganmcardle.theatlantic.com...008/04/dancing_fools.php
    http://www.nbc4.com/news/15902071/detail.html
    thirdpartywatch.com...all-my-rowdy-friends-are-getting-busted

    There you go...

    16-12.2A Display of Permits.

    Every person occupying any property owned by, or in control of, the City, or any Officer, Board or Agency thereof, for any purpose requiring a license or permit issued by the City shall have any and all such valid licenses and permits posted and clearly visible at all times during such occupancy.

    (Ord. 1986 c. 8 § 1; Ord. 1988 c. 15 § 8)

    try again

    for any purpose requiring a license or permit issued by the City

    Find me the ordinance which requires a permit for spending an hour or two on a sidewalk.

    Sidewalk permits are usually only needed for blocking sidewalks in the context of construction- ie your scissor lift, or construction scaffolding. Again, look at which departments are involved; DPW doesn't handle approving protests, nor does Inspectional Services! I doubt whatever statute or ordinance they're applying was ever meant to encompass peaceful protest.

    What about Mr. Fetal Parts

    I swear that guy had a whole farking campsite at Brigham and Women's, near the very narrow corner of Francis and Huntington Ave. Nobody ever made him get out of everybody's faces, or take down all his dismembered fetus signs visible to all arriving preggers.

    What he was protesting

    I walked past there yesterday afternoon. He had a sign about Bishop X (I can't remember the name; I assumed it was the Episcopalian (?) bishop at the cathedral) not supporting the Jews of Israel, and I think something about them being pushed into the sea.

    Case dismissed

    without explanation, after a night in jail. I fully disagree with his message (claiming that the Episcopal Church is anti-Semitic), but he should have the Constitutional right to demonstrate without risking arrest.

    His name is Mark Nystedt (not Alan, as reported above), and you can read his full statement at Solomonia.

    Impeding the right-of-way

    Basically, the story is that you can't impede the right-of-way. Nearly ever law enforcement officer regards that as needing to be mobile. A chair is not mobile. It impedes part of the right-of-way, regardless as to whether the right-of-way is 3 feet or 30 feet wide at that location.

    That doesn't mean you won't find officers who are willing to let it go if there's tons of room and it's not a busy day. But they are within their responsibilities to require that you not be seated or setup a large number of stationary objects like tables or billboards.

    This wasn't the first time he'd been told of this requirement and he went there to knowingly act in defiance. Hopefully he's not emboldened by the fact that they dismissed the charges. I think if he does it again they'll legally smack him down a lot harder the next time.

    What the DA's office said

    Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk County DA's office (in reply to an e-mail query I sent him about the case):

    After a review of the evidence, prosecutors determined that his actions did not rise to the level of criminal misconduct.

    So some guy sitting in a chair on a wide downtown sidewalk handing out leaflets does not represent a clear and present danger to public safety.

    Not my rule

    I don't really like the way it's sometimes interpreted, but it's my understanding that impeding is impeding and if you establish that you're not going to move around then they are within reason to consider you non-mobile and they can request you to move or take you in.

    I'm sure the DA doesn't prosecute a lot of these even if it's really cut-n-dry, leaving the law for those times when mass sit-ins and what-not actually tax the public access, but there's that grey area between what is covered by the law and what is reasonable. If you dance within it, you shouldn't be surprised (or so quick to sue the city) when an officer chooses to take you in.

    I don't think he was necessarily wrong for trying to interpret the law one way and I don't think the cops were wrong for their enforcement of how it's known to me either. But he admits going into it that there was a risk to be arrested and now he's hiring a lawyer to sue the city according to him. That's just silly.

    police dept lawyer to answer booking officer's questions

    If the police are responsible for enforcing the law then they need to know the law in order to do their job.

    That doesn't mean they must go to law school but it does mean that before they arrest and put a man in jail, who is innocent until proven guilty, who is not a threat to himself or others, and who has the right to protest lawfully, they should check their fact set with someone on the police force who does know the law.

    Why do the police not have a legal expert in the department who must be consulted as a matter of policy before a person is arrested and jailed overnight?

    This man could have been sited and summoned but instead we have a liability for wrongful arrest and imprisonment because the police did not know the law and did not avail themselves of how the law is applied given the facts in this case.

    Whether the city's liability insurance policy covers potential damages or its paid from tax revenues, Boston taxpayers freight the bill for using Boston law enforcement authority without regard for the law.

    I am Alan Nystedt

    I am Alan Nystedt, the person arrested. I was protesting anti-Semitism within the Episcopal Church (see camera.org, Episcopal). The City of Boston does not require permits for groups of protesters under 10; I was alone. Nothing was said about permits during the warning, arrest, and lockup process. I had no religious material in my cart; only literature to enlighten the passerby about anti-Semitism in the Episcopal Church and the Israel-Palestinian situation. The Boston Police and the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts obviously conspired to infringe on my right to free speech. I was arrested for sitting while protesting even though there is no city ordinance prohibiting sitting while protesting. I was not obstructing pedestrian traffic (the sidewalk is 20 feet wide) or any building's entrance. The case was dismissed at the initial hearing held the day after the Apr 30th arrest, May 1st. I have an attorney to sue city of Boston and the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts for infringing on my right to free speech.