This week, Senator Charles Schumer proposed making trespassing on “critical infrastructure” — bridges, buildings, and the like — a federal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison.
He pointed to the pair of German artists who this summer allegedly scaled the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced its American flags with white flags; a Russian tourist who climbed a bridge to take a selfie; and a teen who somehow made it to the top of 1 World Trade Center.
“We cannot allow New York City infrastructure to be turned into playgrounds — or worse,” Schumer said.
Absolutely not! When you let the city become a wholesome nexus of childhood fun, the terrorists win!
It was a move Kumar Rao, an attorney with legal-services nonprofit Bronx Defenders, called excessive. “If the purpose is to deter pranksters and protesters that have made a splash recently, then the law is clearly unduly harsh for the behavior at issue, and absolutely triggers First Amendment concerns,” he writes in an email. “Five years(!) for hanging a banner or flag on a bridge puts it on par with many violent felonies.”
Just how violent are we talking? Take a look at some heinous crimes that have taken place around the country that have netted the perpetrators five years in prison:
How does five years for climbing a bridge seem now?
Schumer said in a press release that his bill makes it easier to target terrorists.
But Rao believes the city already has enough resources and laws to do that, and that this would be gratuitous.
“History has shown that trespass laws, in particular, have lent themselves to abuse and arbitrary (or racialized) enforcement by law enforcement, particularly in NYC,” he writes.
It’s already illegal in New York City to trespass or scale tall structures without permission. But Rao says that a lot of the “critical infrastructure” in New York is also hangout space where locals and tourists alike should be able to feel comfortable. “I do have a fear that this law could further criminalize and federalize innocuous conduct of city residents in both foreseeable and unforeseen ways.”
Gabe Rottman, senior counsel at the ACLU, seems to agree. “We haven’t seen the text of the bill,” he says. “But [we] would certainly be concerned if it opens the door to selective enforcement against individuals expressing opinions critical of the government or could result in inconsistent enforcement because of the definition of ‘critical infrastructure.’ “