Public space is a pillar of democracy, providing a physical context for the exchange – and sometimes clash – of ideas. In New York City’s public sidewalks, public parks and public streets, everyone has the right to engage in peaceful protest activity. Now, the New York Civil Liberties Union has compiled a guide to First Amendment rights in public spaces, including handy sub-sections addressing “Your Rights in Zuccotti Park and Public vs. Private Spaces” and “Your Rights When Interacting with Police.”
Excerpt below; the full run-down can be found at http://occupyyourrights.org.
Can I have a press conference, rally or demonstration on a public street or sidewalk?
Yes. Parks and public squares are traditional public forums for First Amendment activity. While these public spaces hold a cherished place in our political history, the Constitution permits the government to impose a variety of rules designed to address public safety as long as they are applied to all speakers in the same way. The government cannot restrict speech based on the content of the message.
The government may require a permit for the use of certain spaces or the use of amplified sound. For example, it is necessary to obtain a permit to march in a street that is accessible to vehicle traffic. A permit is not necessary to march on the sidewalk, so long as demonstrators do not block pedestrian passage, building entrances or streets. Demonstrators should also leave at least one-half of the sidewalk free for use.
If your demonstration does not require a permit, then you do not have to notify the police about it. Whether you notify the NYPD or not, expect police officers to show up. These will likely include uniformed officers, some higher-ranking officers, police on motorcycles or in vehicles (if your event involves a march), and officers from a unit of the NYPD that uses video cameras to record potentially illegal activity.
Can I hold a press conference, rally or demonstration in front of City Hall?
You are entitled to have a rally, press conference or demonstration on the steps of City Hall or in the plaza directly in front of the south steps. (City Hall Park also is open for such events, but these are subject to the normal rules for events in city parks.) You do not need a permit for events in front of City Hall, but you do need to schedule your event with City Hall Security.
To schedule an event, or check the availability of the steps, call the City Hall Security Police Desk at (212) 788-6688. Groups are limited to 300 people, only a portion of the steps is available for events, and only one event can use the steps at a time, so reserve early. To access the City Hall steps, everyone must pass through a metal detector. Finally, you will not be able to bring any signs that are attached to rigid objects (such as wooden stakes or poles); use cardboard tubing or hold your signs by hand instead.
Can I have a press conference, rally or demonstration in a city park?
You are entitled to distribute materials, participate in small gatherings and participate in First Amendment activity (such as taking pictures, making a speech or performing), in city parks during operating hours. You also have the right to hold a rally, press conference or demonstration in a city park but you may need a permit. There is no fee or permit requirement to demonstrate in a privately owned public space, such as Zuccotti Park. To find out if a space is a city park or a privately owned public space, visit nycgovparks.org.