By CAROL DeMARE ,Staff writer, with wire reports
First published: Wednesday, March 5, 2003
GUILDERLAND — About 100 people marched through Crossgates Mall at noon today to protest the arrest Monday of a man who wore a peace T-shirt while he shopped.
"We just want to know what the policy is and why it’s being randomly enforced," said Erin O’Brien, an organizer of the rally.
No arrests were reported, and protest leaders were scheduled to meet with the mall’s manager after the rally.
In Monday’s incident, an attorney for the state was arrested and hauled into court after refusing to take off a T-shirt that said "Give Peace a Chance" while shopping at the mall.
This is at least the second time in recent months that mall security asked people wearing T-shirts with peace slogans to leave.
Steve Downs, 60, of Selkirk, said he was minding his own business Monday when he refused to remove the shirt and was charged with trespass.
"My point was I’m not trying to convert anybody," Downs said Tuesday. "This was a statement of where I was in my life."
He had purchased the shirt in a shop in the mall shortly before the arrest. The store put on the lettering while he waited: "Peace on Earth" on the front and "Give Peace a Chance" on the back.
His son, Roger Downs, 31, of New Baltimore, an ecologist, also bought a shirt. It read "No War With Iraq" and "Let Inspections Work."
"When they asked me to take it off, I took it off," Roger said. "I think it was ridiculous. I guess the way we see this is we feel the mall has a right to control assembly, not want large protests or large special interest groups or rallies. We were just individuals with T-shirts on, and we were shopping. We weren’t talking to people or handing out leaflets."
Numerous calls to Crossgates Marketing Director Sarah Nieves regarding mall policy were not returned.
Heidi Siegfried, interim executive director of the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, "We have the position that the public space in the mall should be a First Amendment protected activity. Even when they have the right to control and prohibit … someone shouldn’t be removed when doing activity consistent with the normal uses of the mall."
On Dec. 21, about two dozen anti-war protesters wearing pro-peace T-shirts and carrying signs were asked to leave Crossgates. The group complied.
The incident with the father and son occurred shortly after 7 p.m. in the food court. They said they were asked by two security guards to take off their T-shirts, leave or be arrested.
"I don’t think we have to take off the T-shirts," said Steve Downs, chief attorney in the Albany office of the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The guards returned with a Guilderland police officer and, "It was the same routine all over again," the father said. "I said ‘OK, arrest me.’ "
The cop talked to him for an hour after he was handcuffed, Downs said, trying to get him to drop the whole thing and take the shirt off.
"I didn’t want to do that," Downs said. "They were just doing their duty. They were trying to be very peaceful. They didn’t want any confrontation."
He was repeatedly told the mall was private property and what he was wearing was unacceptable, the same as if he went to someone’s home wearing something unacceptable.
"I said it’s not the same thing, it’s not a good analogy," said Steve Downs, who insisted he wasn’t protesting or demonstrating by wearing the shirt.
Guilderland Town Justice Kenneth Riddett released Downs on his own recognizance and set a return date of March 17. Trespass, a violation, carries a maximum of 15 days in jail. A fine or conditional discharge with community service is more commonly given.