Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told a group of volunteers who plan to toil at the Republican National Convention yesterday that he expected most protesters who come to the event later this month would "be reasonable," but he warned that "if we start to abuse our privileges, then we lose them."
Coincidentally, his remarks followed a protest by a small group of police officers who were told to move away from the doorway of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan or risk arrest. The group was there awaiting the mayor's arrival to address and thank the volunteers.
Mr. Bloomberg has been battling two disparate groups of protesters over the last few weeks: police and fire union officials, who have been trailing him at his public events and yelling at him to give them a raise, and antiwar protesters, who have been wrangling with the city over where they can stage a large demonstration the day before the convention, which will be held Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.
In recent days, as each group has gotten more aggressive, Mr. Bloomberg has been forced to address them in his public remarks as he goes about the city. Last week, during a briefing with police officials on the convention, Mr. Bloomberg suggested that antiwar protesters be mindful of American troops in Iraq.
When asked later if he meant that protesters were being unpatriotic, Mr. Bloomberg said he did not. "If you think the war is wrong you should say so," he said, adding that his point was that "we have freedoms that most other people do not have," including the right to protest.
Yesterday, a small group of police officers were reminded of the limitations they face when they stood outside the college waiting for Mr. Bloomberg to arrive, and handed out leaflets while blocking the entrance.
After being asked to move several times, the leader of the group, Walter Liddy, was told he would be arrested if he did not move to a penned-in area near the school. "I almost got arrested for exercising our civil rights," Mr. Liddy said.
Mr. Liddy seemed perplexed when asked if he had anything in common with the group that has been battling the city over its protest site the Sunday before the convention begins. "Because they're protesters and because they have a gripe," Mr. Liddy said, he saw some parallels, but added that their issues were very different.
That group, United for Peace and Justice, has repeatedly requested the right to protest on Central Park's Great Lawn and have been rejected each time by the city's Parks Department, whose officials say the lawn cannot handle the 250,000-odd protesters the city expects at their rally. The city offered the group the West Side Highway, which it accepted at one point but subsequently rejected last week.
Both the antiwar protesters and some of the police officers who could be assigned to watch over them used the same language to respond to the mayor's remarks about free speech being a privilege that can be lost.
"I never understood the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment were a privilege,'' said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, "I don't know why he is framing it that way."
Mr. Liddy echoed that thought: "Unless the mayor paid someone to rewrite the Constitution."