New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Upper East Side Patch 'No Protesting Allowed': Sign Baffles Upper East Side BLM Group by Nick Garber

'No Protesting Allowed': Sign Baffles Upper East Side BLM Group

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — When Rebecca Lamorte arrived at Carl Schurz Park on Wednesday, she almost missed the official-looking, red-and-white sign affixed to a post near the park's East 86th Street entrance.

"It didn't dawn on me right away until I stopped to read it," said Lamorte, one of the co-founders of the group Upper East Side for Black Lives Matter (UES4BLM), which has held nightly demonstrations against racism in the park since June.

When she examined it more closely, she realized it bore a startling message: "ABSOLUTELY NO PROTESTING ALLOWED."

"I was like, oh, this is an encroachment on our First Amendment right," she said. "So I immediately took a photo — I did what millennials do, I put it out on social."

Lamorte's tweet triggered a quick response from city agencies, who said the sign was not official, and from City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who represents the neighborhood.

"The thought that anyone went to the time and expense of having it fabricated is baffling," Kallos tweeted. "I support free speech and this gets me so upset."

By Thursday afternoon, the city had removed the sign, according to an email sent by a Parks Department employee to a local community board member and shared with Patch.

One question remains, of course: if the city didn't create the sign, who did?

Earlier this week, UES4BLM organizers said in a news release that their nightly demonstrations have been met with increasing hostility, including verbal harassment, threats of violence made over social media, and the "almost daily destruction" of the group's altar that sits in Carl Schurz Park, consisting of cardboard signs and memorials to Black people killed by police.

Organizers singled out one group as responsible for the threats: DefendNYC, a pro-police organization based in the neighborhood with a 2,300-member Facebook group.

DefendNYC was founded by David Brotsky, an Upper East Side resident who is harshly critical of the protesters. In an email sent to Patch and several other news outlets this week, Brotsky attacked the group's altar as "Marxist/domestic terrorist family unfriendly cop hating propaganda."

Reached by phone Thursday, Brotsky insisted he had nothing to do with the "No Protesting" sign, but added, "I fully love the idea of it."

Brotsky said that members of DefendNYC were not responsible for harassment directed at the demonstrators, adding that he does not tolerate threats or condone violence.

Protesters counter that they have evidence showing his participation, including a Facebook video in which Brotsky says, "I'm convinced I could go out there and start shooting and no one would even arrest me." Brotsky claimed the statement was a hypothetical, meant to illustrate a lack of police presence in the area since the protests began.

He admitted, though, to playing a role in the frequent destruction of the Black Lives Matter altar, justifying the act by noting that the group does not have a formal permit from the Parks Department to maintain the installation.

"I'll go out and just take down a couple signs," he said. "I have every right to throw away trash in the park."

UES4BLM organizers say they have a longstanding agreement with the Parks Department to keep the vigil standing, and that Parks employees have deterred attempts to dismantle it.

Lamorte said the pushback has only strengthened her resolve to continue leading the demonstrations, which marked their 119th consecutive day on Thursday.

"It drives home that these are very real issues that we're fighting for," she said.

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