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in: New York Press Blog on April 4, 2008

At 3 p.m. yesterday, half a dozen men gathered outside of the fence surrounding City Hall.  Dressed mostly in genuinely distressed black leather jackets and truly worn jeans, the men—two with gray beards past their shoulders—looked out of place next to city politicos in pinstripes and pencil skirts.  At 10 minutes after three, they walked through the metal detectors and onto City Hall’s turf.

"If Mayor Bloomberg will allow us to put cameras in his residence and Gracie Mansion and especially in his office," John Penley said, then his group of Lower East Side residents will be more than happy for the cameras to start recording in Tompkins Square Park.

Billed by an East Village blog as a protest against forthcoming surveillance cameras in the park, the group’s press conference focused largely on drawing attention to the difficulties it has had trying to obtain a permit for a commemorative concert this summer. The group organizes an outdoor concert in the park each year in memory of the bloody 1988 police riot that injured dozens of protestors demonstrating against park curfews.

Penley said they submitted their application for a concert January 1, “just to make sure we got in before anyone else,” but the Parks department denied it.  The proposed weekend, August 2 and 3, have been set aside as a quiet weekend, and no concerts using amplifiers will be allowed.

After Penley outlined the afternoon’s objectives, Bill Weinberg, a local writer and historian, traced Tompkin Square Park’s history of protests and riots, most brought on by economic depression.  “I’m not here to romanticize riots,” he said, "but for the history."

The history lesson evolved into a discussion of the loss of community caused by gentrification and development in the Lower East Side and in the city as a whole. Efforts by the city to clean up the neighborhood, which resident and author of Resistance: A Radical History of the Lower East Side Clayton Patterson attributed to Mayor Koch have increase rents and force out artists. 

“Where are the cameras here?" one protestor quietly asked while Patterson spoke.  A few looked up into City Hall’s eaves and windows until they spotted the small, orb shaped fixtures on the floodlights across the walkway and shook their heads.

On the steps, Patterson continued.  Jackson Pollack, Lou Reed, “they’re all connected to cheap rent,” he said.

Building on Patterson’s comments, another member, Jerry White spoke, tailoring his argument to his audience.  “Let’s say you go to Columbia Journalism School,” he started, addressing the group of six reporters.  He then outlined the tale of a reporter who can barely afford rent in the traditionally arty and diverse neighborhood, despite his education. 

His tale meandered from Tompkins Square Park to the disappearing consciousness of the city before ending with “Let’s give something back to the people.”

“How bout a permit,” Pendley said.

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