Officials Ban Die-Ins at Grand Central Station
On Tuesday, New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority announced it would no longer permit die-ins at Grand Central Terminal. Since the failure to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner, protesters have been participating in die-ins at the Terminal nearly every night. This sort of demonstration has become an increasingly popular tactic of the Black Lives Matter movement, in which protesters raise awareness of racist police violence by lying down to symbolize its end result: the death of people of color.
“They were happening on a regular basis since the Eric Garner non-indictment,” said Aaron Donovan, spokesman for the MTA. “Not exactly nightly, but almost nightly.”
Donovan said that while lying on the Terminal’s floor is against MTA’s rules, they accepted the protests that began in early December.
“We have been very flexible about allowing the die-ins to take place despite that rule because the protests were clearly on a matter of public concern, the protesters were not impeding the customers or in any other way violating the laws,” Donovan said. “Our main concern of course is running a train station and making sure our customers can get from point A to point B. And all of the protests have always been done in a way that is sensitive to that and allowed our customers to move about.”
Until Tuesday night, Donovan said. On Monday and Tuesday nights, a 24-hour vigil called #CarryTheNames took place at Grand Central. Protesters carried placards with the names of those killed by police. Twitter posts show that at one point, protesters placed the placards on the floor of the terminal and the MTA police moved in.
“Last night, a group of protesters laid placards on the floor in the main concourse over quite a large area, and we can’t really allow that kind of obstruction to take place,” Donovan said. “So the MTA police asked members of the protest to remove the placards and explain that we can’t allow them to violate the rule of sitting and lying on the floor. And so that’s basically what led to that. Following that, there were two separate incidents, in which members of the group, two separate protesters became physical with police commanders. As a result we had to make the very first first arrests since the protests began last night.”
According to the Village Voice, only one arrest was made. The arrestee’s partner told the Voice: "He said he wasn't resisting…They just clearly wanted him not to be there."
A video captured during the arrest shows officers picking up the placards from the Terminal’s floor. One protester shouted, “How dare you disrespect these names! Shame on you!”
“This is really designed to kick the protesters out,” Lucy Sun, a protest organizer, told the Wall Street Journal. “Nothing unpeaceful was happening.”
Donovan said die-ins will no longer be permitted because the protesters put the placards down on Tuesday night.
“We have been extremely tolerant of their presence in the terminal for weeks and we are cognizant of the rights they have to express their opinions and have done everything we can to accommodate them,” Donovan said. “We’ve made it clear going forward we’re no longer permitting the laying down on the ground or laying out the placards and people who don’t comply will be subject to arrest.”
Asked how the MTA is making this change clear, Donovan said, “I don’t know, to be honest. We’ve been vocal about it all day to media, from my perspective, and I’m sure police would be able to communicate that to protesters, who may not be aware of it.”
Section 1085.5 of the Metro-North Railroad’s rules and regulations states that “No person in a terminal, station or train shall: (a) block free movement of another person or persons; lie on the floor, platforms, stairs or landings”
According to Animal New York, the MTA’s actions may be unconstitutional. The news site wrote:
In a text to ANIMAL, famed civil rights attorney Norman Siegel asserts that the rules being imposed by the MTA aren’t constitutional.
“Assuming the die-in does not interfere with pedestrian movement, the MTA policy is unconstitutional,” writes Siegel. “The policy is overly broad and violates the First Amendment right to peaceful protest.”