GUILDERLAND - A man who wanted to send a message of peace
by wearing a T-shirt with anti-war slogans was arrested Monday
at Crossgates Mall after he refused to remove the shirt or leave
Stephen F. Downs, 61, of Selkirk, was charged with one count
of trespassing, a violation.
Police said he was asked to leave the mall several times but
refused and was arrested. A mall merchant had made the shirt
for him shortly before security personnel confronted him.
"I was shocked," said Downs, an attorney. "They
didn't explain why they wanted me to remove the T-shirt; they
just said I had to remove it or leave the mall." Crossgates
representatives could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Downs said he and his 31-year-old son, Roger, went to Crossgates
Monday evening and had T-shirts made there. They paid for the
shirts and put them on over their other clothing.
They wanted to send a quiet message advocating a peaceful resolution
to the U.S.-Iraq conflict.
The father's T-shirt said "Peace on Earth" on the
front and "Give Peace a Chance" on the back.
His son's T-shirt said "Let Inspectors Work" and
"No War in Iraq."
About 10 minutes after they had the shirts made, Crossgates
security approached them at the food court and asked them to
either remove the T-shirts or leave the mall or face arrest
Security guards asked the pair several times to remove the
T-shirts, according to police. The guards told them they were
Eventually, mall security contacted Guilderland Police Officer
Adam Myers for assistance. Myers approached the Downses and
he repeated their choices: Remove the T-shirts, leave the mall,
or face charges.
The younger Downs removed his shirt so he wouldn't be arrested,
but Stephen Downs continued to refuse.
Still wearing the shirt, he was handcuffed and taken to the
police substation at the mall.
For about an hour, Downs said, he and the officer engaged in
a philosophical conversation - the officer tried to convince
Downs the situation was similar to being in a private home and
refusing to leave.
But Downs persisted in declining to leave Crossgates or take
off his shirt.
Eventually, he was taken to Town Court, arraigned before Town
Judge Kenneth Riddett and released on his own recognizance.
Downs, an attorney with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct,
said he's shocked by what occurred. He said after he and his
son got the T-shirts, they went to the food court for something
to eat. They spoke to no one and had no intentions of making
a scene or trying to speak to other mall patrons.
The T-shirts were intended as a quiet way to communicate a
message, he said.
Downs said he understands Crossgates has to protect itself
and can't have people going crazy, but he's shocked by the response
and said no one ever explained why he had to remove the T-shirt
The arrest raised the issue of individual rights versus privately
owned public spaces such as shopping malls.
Guilderland Police Chief James Murley said Tuesday that Crossgates
is private property and its owners have the right to ask individuals
to leave the premises.
Murley also said he supports Myers' actions - he said Myers
was diplomatic and tried to bring about a peaceful resolution.
"This was allegedly trespassing and had nothing to do with
what the two were wearing. We responded and tried to negotiate
a peaceful resolution. Crossgates Mall is a private property."
The police report indicates that mall security received a complaint
from Macy's representatives that the two were creating a disturbance
with other customers, said Murley.
In a sworn statement, a mall security guard said he had received
complaints the two were "stopping other shoppers. . . .
Security asked the defendant to leave the property and he refused."
"We didn't talk to anyone," said Downs. "At
one point, some kids saw us and said they liked the T-shirts.
We told them where we got them. That was it."
It's not the first time mall patrons have been asked to leave
In December, a group of about 20 people was ordered to leave
the premises by mall security. They had walked around the mall
at the height of the Christmas shopping season with anti-war
statements on their shirts.
Several members of Upper Hudson Peace Action said they were
simply wearing shirts that expressed messages of peace, such
as "Don't Invade Iraq" and "Peace on Earth"
when security officers escorted them from the building Dec.
21. They were not arrested.
Members of the group sent a letter to Crossgates asking mall
officials to explain what happened. The letter described the
response of mall security and Guilderland police officers as
"inappropriate and unfair."
They denied they were demonstrating or creating a disturbance.
"It wasn't really a protest," said Pat Beetle, coordinator
of Upper Hudson Peace Action. "We just wanted to be a presence
at the mall. We wanted people to have a second thought about
what Christmas is all about."
Members of Upper Hudson Peace Action denied they were belligerent
and said they would like an apology from the mall for what they
regard as an overreaction.
Downs said he knew about the group forced out of the mall.
But his actions were not part of an organized effort and were
not intended as a protest, he said.
"I think it was in part to just see what would happen
if I put a T-shirt on that said, `Peace,' and walked around
in Crossgates," Downs said. "I really hoped that nothing
would happen because if something did happen, it would mean
that I was living in a country where you really don't have free
"I still think I have the right of free speech."
The New York Civil Liberties Union said it would assist Downs
with his case if he requests the group's help.
"We don't think that someone whose behavior is consistent
with the normal uses of shopping should be excluded for displaying
as part of their personal effects a message that the proprietor
dislikes," said Heidi Siegfried, interim executive director
of the Capital Region chapter of the NYCLU.