December 16, 2011, 1:09 PM
New York Times – City Blog
Soon after the Occupy Wall Street protesters built an encampment in the financial district in mid-September, organizers looking for a less conspicuous place to gather began holding certain meetings inside a public atrium at 60 Wall Street.
The spacious enclosure, just east of Hanover Street, is on the ground floor of the North American headquarters of Deutsche Bank — recipient of billions in the A.I.G. bailout, as some people have pointed out — and includes a concourse that can be entered from Wall Street and Pine Street. Plastic chairs and tables are scattered inside the atrium near rows of tall palm trees and several shops selling food and magazines.
Organizers and protesters frequently made placards announcing the name of various committees assembling there and displayed them on tables and chairs.
Sometime in November, though, new signs went up in the atrium listing several rules including “no loitering,” “no excessive use of space” and “signs and posters are not allowed.” Protesters said that private security guards and police officers began enforcing those rules and others.
On Wednesday, the civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel and Herbert Teitelbaum, a former executive director of the New York State Commission on Public Integrity, faxed a letter to the bank and to the Police Department asking about the rule prohibiting signs.
“We submit that the new rule violates the First Amendment,” the two wrote, adding, “Implementing the rule at this time raises the concern that it is discriminatory toward those who support and participate in O.W.S. activities.”
The letter went on to ask whether the police had enforced the rule against signs and whether Deutsche Bank had asked them to do so.
Duncan King, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank said that the rule prohibiting signs was not aimed at the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
“The rule is aimed at preventing items from being affixed to our property and potentially damaging the atrium,” he said, adding: “The atrium rules are intended to ensure equal access and enjoyment by all guests and to maintain their safety.”
A Police Department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Like Zuccotti Park, the Occupy Wall Street stronghold for two months before it was cleared by the police in mid-November, the atrium at 60 Wall Street is a privately owned public space established under city regulations. About 500 such hybrids exist in New York City, created and maintained by developers for public use, in exchange for additional floor area or other zoning concessions.
Inside the atrium on Thursday afternoon there were people playing chess and backgammon. There were men and women in suits sipping coffee. And at the southern end of the atrium there were at least two Occupy Wall Street assemblages, including a meeting with dozens of participants.
Among the protesters were several who said that security guards and police officers had told them not to display signs.
Tashy Endres, 29, from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, said that she had recently held aloft a notebook upon which she had written the words “media workshop.”
“The guards came up and said you can’t have that because it’s a sign and you’re trying to convey a message,” she said.
As a result, Stefan Fink, 22, from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, said, some protesters had taken to taping pieces of paper with the names of their working groups to their shirts or jackets.
“We have to resort to some pretty silly solutions, because we’re dealing with a silly situation,” he said.
Other protesters said that the public bathroom in the atrium was frequently closed to the public and added that guards sometimes dimmed the lights an hour or two before the posted closing time of 10 p.m. Anyone who sat on the floor was likely to receive a quick reprimand, they said, and groups of people standing and talking in the center of the atrium were often told to move to one side.
“It seems like they are working on all levels to make this place as inhospitable as possible,” said Emma McCumber, 23, from Reading, Vt.
Police officers stood in the atrium on Thursday, and several security guards dressed in dark blue paced near the Occupy Wall Street meetings. Those guards, however, did not seek to enforce one of the posted rules being flouted by protesters, which forbade rearrangement of tables and chairs.
Mr. Siegel said on Thursday evening that he had not yet heard back from the bank or the Police Department.
“I’m hoping we can amicably resolve these issues,” he said. “Now it’s up to them to respond to our objections and questions.”