MANHATTAN (CN) – An artist who often wrangles with New York City over the rights of street vendors claims in court that the city arrested him illegally for protesting the privatization of parks.
Robert Lederman, founder of Artists’ Resistance to Illegal State Tactics, or ARTIST, says he faced arrest 44 times for challenging policies he calls unconstitutional.
Lederman says prosecutors have never been able to convict him, and he claims credit for successfully challenging former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign and winning the right to hawk art on the steps of the Capitol Building without a permit.
In his new federal complaint, Lederman challenges his Aug. 9, 2011 arrest for protesting at the event, “Whose Park is it? Financing and Administering New York’s New Parks,” at the Museum of the City of New York.
Lederman sued the city, the museum, former city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, and museum supervisor Sarah Henry.
Lederman says then-Parks Commissioner Benepe was a panelist at the event, to which Lederman bought a ticket so he could a placard and make a “public service announcement” as the talk started.
“Lederman’s sign read: ‘Park privatization is a real estate scam. It’s all about raising property values for the Mayor’s wealthiest friends,'” according the complaint.
Museum staff immediately swooped into damage control mode, Lederman says.
“Lederman was immediately accosted by the museum’s security guard, staff and several members of the audience as he attempted to speak out against park privatization,” the complaint states.
“A female officer with the NYPD who was called to the scene with some other officers approached Lederman and asked whether he wanted to step outside with her. He declined and she left. At no time did she advise him that he must stop, that he was breaking any laws, or that he had to leave.
“Lederman continued to stand to the side and hold up his sign, and only made a few occasional comments responsive to what Benepe was saying on the panel.
“Approximately thirty minutes later, Benepe called down from the stage, ‘Robert, do you want me to have you arrested?”
“Lederman replied, ‘You’ve done it many times before.’ About five minutes later, the police came back and led Lederman away in handcuffs. His sign was confiscated.”
Lederman claims that police applied a double standard by arresting him on two disorderly conduct charges, which were thrown out in court, though they gave a pass to audience members who “accosted” him for his protest.
“Other members of the audience, who jumped out of their seat, ran up to the stage and physically accosted Lederman were not similarly charged or even approached by the police,” the complaint states.
“The museum security guard and administrator asked Lederman to put down his sign. Other protesters who were holding up signs were not asked to put them down.
“Lederman’s accusing instrument contains several false statements made by Sarah Henry, a museum supervisor, including that she ‘observed the defendant scream and yell in sum and substance: Bloomberg is a Liar, Bloomberg Sucks, Fuck Bloomberg;’ that Lederman had no lawful authority to be there; that she asked Lederman to leave and he refused; that he did not have permission or authority to remain inside the Museum.”
Lederman says he never got his sign back.
While he was in custody, he says, he suffered “severe chest pains” and had “trouble sleeping for several months” for fear that he would be incarcerated at the Tombs, the colloquial name for the Manhattan Detention Complex.
Lederman wants seeks punitive damages for constitutional violations.
He is represented by Julie Milner.
Lederman has another pending lawsuitagainst New York City and Mayor Bloomberg, claiming the city is defying the 2nd Circuit’s orders in Bery v. City of New York, which found licensing requirements unconstitutional in 1997.
A judge heard arguments in July month on whether to take that case to trial.
That lawsuit is not mentioned in the new complaint.
Elizabeth Thomas, a spokeswoman for the New York City Law Department, said that the city has not yet been served with the new lawsuit.
“We are awaiting the legal papers and will review them upon receipt,” Thomas said.