Seventeen protesters arrested October 7 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza will go on trial in New York May 14. They plan to challenge the increasing restrictions placed by the New York Police Department on First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly.
Twenty-five people, most of them U.S. military veterans, were arrested on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as they were laying flowers at the memorial and reading the names of those killed in the U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as those U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam who are commemorated at the memorial. Eight of the original defendants have chosen to take an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal, or ACD, rather than going to trial.
The police moved in after 10 pm, the official closing time of the memorial, and began arresting the protesters, who continued reading names until they were all in custody.
Despite the posted closing time on the memorial, which is in an open plaza between two office buildings, on most nights there is no attempt by police to enforce the 10 pm curfew. The only other time the NYPD has made arrests after 10 pm was May 1, 2012, when participants in a massive May 1 march held a general assembly at the memorial.
Those on trial argue that the arbitrary and inconsistent enforcement of the closing time effectively limits people’s rights to free speech and assembly, since arrests are only made when people assemble to express their views. They further point out that there is no public safety or sanitation reason to close the park that would justify abridging First Amendment rights. Finally, pointing out that “Nightmares of war don’t end at 10 pm,” they assert that the memorial, by its very nature, should be open at all times for those who feel a need to remember and honor lost loved ones, as similar memorials in other locations are.