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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 20, 2005

Will we tolerate discrimination"

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

— Bill of Rights, First Amendment

Malls are the modern American meeting place. They have replaced city centers and town squares as the place where people gather.

Our First Amendment insures our right to peaceably assemble.

So why aren’t certain people allowed at certain times in the biggest mall in our town"

Crossgates Mall, of course, is privately owned by Pyramid Cos. and that corporation adopted a policy in July that required those under 18 be escorted by a parent or guardian over the age of 21 after 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

The last time Crossgates Mall tangled with First Amendment rights, the atmosphere was more charged as the country was poised on the brink of war. While this time those getting arrested for trespassing are random teens or their friends who don’t believe they should have to show identification to enter a mall, last time the plan was more pointed.

Nearly three years ago, a small band of local peace activists went to Crossgates Mall just before Christmas, wearing T-shirts that said "Peace on Earth — For a Change" or "Drop Toys, Not Bombs," or "Don’t Invade Iraq."

At the behest of mall security, they were forcibly escorted to their cars by Guilderland Police officers.

At the time, Heidi Sigfrig with the Capital Region American Civil Liberties Union, told us that mall owners "have the right to discriminate." She added, "But they don’t look too good when they do."

A little over two months later, on March 3, 2003, Stephen Downs made headlines around the world. He bought a T-shirt at Crossgates Mall and had it lettered with "Peace on Earth" on one side and "Give Peace a Chance" on the other. When he refused to remove his shirt, he was arrested for trespassing. He insisted on his First Amendment rights. It was a cry heard round the world.

With the protests and world-wide media coverage that followed, the charges were dropped.

But then, as now, Guilderland Police, police paid by the taxpayers in our town, were used to enforce corporate policy that is an affront to the spirit of the First Amendment.

Crossgates Mall management said at the time the policy restricting teens was adopted that it would reduce violence and arrests.

Certainly, if there is violence — the policy was instituted on the heels of three incidents police said were gang-related — those involved should be arrested. But that should not exclude an entire category of people. Age profiling is no more acceptable than racial profiling.

We waited to see if arrests would decline. Each week, we report, in "Blotters and Dockets," on the arrests made across town by the Guilderland Police. A large number of those arrests are made at Crossgates Mall.

Nicole Fay Barr, our Guilderland reporter, who each week reads every arrest report made by the Guilderland Police, has assembled a tally of the arrests made at Crossgates Mall for comparable periods before and after the escort policy was enacted.

Despite police and mall statements that the policy has been effective, the number of arrests has not decreased; in fact, it has increased slightly.

For the age group targeted by the policy, those under 18, the arrests in the comparable 10-week period has gone up from 22 to 27.

Both before and after the policy went into effect, the age group that was most frequently arrested were those between 18 and 30. Arrests for this age group were more than for all the other age groups combined. Arrests of those between the ages 18 and 30 is about double those under 18, targeted by the policy.

So, if the policy isn’t causing a decline in arrests and if it isn’t targeting the age group most frequently arrested for crimes, why is it in place"

Is it, as was stated by the Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman over the T-shirt incident, merely a matter of discrimination"

Is it because many mall-goers feel uncomfortable around teenagers"

A Guilderland police lieutenant told us this week that the police department has heard from many people that, since the age restrictions were adopted, Crossgates Mall’s atmosphere is better on Fridays and Saturdays.

What if the mall decided African-Americans, or people using wheelchairs, or Girl Scouts, for that matter, made shoppers feel uncomfortable" Should we pay our police to enforce a policy limiting access for those groups too"

True, those examples may be unthinkable and offensive even to broach, but where do we draw the line"

What sorts of discrimination will we tolerate as taxpayers, as shoppers, as American citizens, or most essentially as human beings"

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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