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
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
Steve Downs, 60, of Selkirk, said he was minding his own business
Monday when he refused to remove the shirt and was charged with
"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
"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