On January 6, officials at the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced plans to resume enforcing a longstanding ban on “die-ins” at Grand Central Terminal. But the agency seems unclear as to whether the rule is — or should be — in effect at the MTA’s other stations.
According to the MTA’s website, the agency operates 468 subway stations, as well as the Long Island Rail Road terminal at Penn Station, the Staten Island Railway, and the Metro-North portion of Grand Central. MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg tells the Voice that while protests are allowed at all stations, lying on the floor has been prohibited “since time immemorial.”
But it seems enforcement of the law is more or less discretionary.
Hours after the MTA announced it would resume enforcing the rule, a group of ten protesters played dead on the floor of Grand Central, then stood up as police approached them. None were arrested.
The Staten Island Railway, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North all have rules against lying on the floor and “block[ing] free movement of another person or persons.” When asked via email whether MTA police would enforce those rules, Salvatore Arena, another MTA spokesman, wrote, “They can if they want to.”
The MTA has prohibited the so-called die-ins — which involve protesters lying unmoving on the ground, as if they are dead — in the past but backed off when protests erupted across the city after the December 3, 2014, announcement that a grand jury did not indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Demonstrators have held die-ins at Grand Central every night since.
“It was about discretion being an important part of policing,” Lisberg explains. “The larger goal was accommodating a protest of that importance.”
Then, around noon on January 6, professional protester Reverend Billy Talen and one other demonstrator were arrested amid a vigil during which protesters laid down placards representing victims of police brutality. Officers began removing the signs, claiming they were disruptive and potentially dangerous to the more than 750,000 visitors who pass through Grand Central each day.
“The MTA PD felt that the placards — laid out on the floor as they were — were impeding traffic in Grand Central,” Arena explained to the Voice in his email.
The following day the MTA reasserted its die-in prohibition.
And, perhaps predictably, the protestors didn’t take the news well. A Facebook group called “Shut Down Grand Central Terminal” is already planning a protest of the MTA’s decision to ban their preferred method of protest.
“We will not go gentle into the night! We will not let the MTA put fear in our hearts,” the group’s Facebook page reads. “Grand Central Station is a public place and the people have a human right to address their grievances against a system that continues to denied [sic] the human family justice.”