Groups grapple with ‘parade’ rule

The new rules give police the authority to arrest marchers, 'Critical Mass' cyclists, and perhaps even walking tour participants, on charges of "parading without a permit."

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Published January 29, 2007 by Newsday.com
By Justin Rocket Silverman

In light of new parade rules announced by the NYPD last week, groups as varied as funeral parlor directors and walking tour operators are wondering if their work will now require a police permit.

The new rules define a "parade" as "any procession or race that consists of a recognizable group of 50 or more pedestrians, vehicles or bicycles…"

While legal observers say police will use the change to target the monthly Critical Mass bike ride, it will apply equally to any group larger than 49 people.

"Does this mean that if you are on a school trip and crossed the street as a group, you would need a parade permit?" asked Peter T. Barbur, of the City Bar Association. "This is inevitably going to lead to selective enforcement. You are giving the police too much power to decide who they want to go after or not."

Maryann Carroll, executive director of the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association, said her group specifically had asked police brass to exempt funeral processions. The request was denied.

"It can take up to several months to get a parade permit, and that obviously won't work for funerals," said Carroll.

The new rules give police the authority to arrest marchers, 'Critical Mass' cyclists, and perhaps even walking tour participants, on charges of "parading without a permit."

Lawyers said the charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 days in jail and a $25 fine.

"We are licensed New York City tour guides and we abide by all traffic rules," said Seth Kamil, owner of Big Onion Walking Tours. "If people on a walking tour were arrested for parading without a permit, the amount of press we would receive would be staggering. It would be one of those defining moments for our company."

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment about how the new rules will be enforced for funeral processions and walking tours. Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne defended the change last week, saying it would be criticized "no matter how reasonably the rules are drawn."

Some groups, wary of falling on the wrong side of the law, already are looking at ways to make sure they don't qualify as a "parade."

"We can't pretend this new rule doesn't exist," said Ed Ravin of the Five Borough Bicycle Club, which organizes group rides. "The NYPD says any 'recognizable group' of 50 or more can be a parade. That really leaves it up to the discretion of the police officer. We are looking at ways to deal with this."