The Albany Police Department is billing the New York State Poor People’s Campaign $1,451 for “rally security” for a May 21 protest outside the Capitol.
The department says billing groups for costs incurred by the police department during protests is not unusual but an attorney for the campaign calls the move “unconstitutional.”
Mark Mishler, an attorney for the campaign, says the group will not pay for a police protection it didn’t ask for.
“For the city to do this is misguided. It is dangerous because it sets a terrible precedent and it is unconstitutional,” said Mishler.
Albany Police spokesman Steve Smith says the group had a permit to rally in Washington Park, but not for a march up Washington Avenue.
“Even when they brought it out to Washington Avenue where they wanted to express their opinions, we took the necessary measures to ensure that they were safe, even without the permit. But it does incur costs on the police department, and it is not unreasonable to then bill the campaign or bill the group for those costs,” said Smith.
The campaign says the May 21 demonstration, part of an ongoing six-week campaign, was a call to end what they describe as “systemic racism and economic exploitation.”
Mishler says the protest is constitutionally protected speech, but the city chose to heavily police peaceful action.
“You can’t put a price, or the government can’t put a price, or penalize people for exercising their first amendment protected rights,” said Mishler.
The bill is due June 29. If the bill goes unpaid, it would go to the city’s law department for collection, potentially setting the stage for a battle in court.