DeWitt Police Chief Eugene Conway appeared before the DeWitt Town Board to clarify a misunderstanding that happened back in April: the town, he said, did not authorize Onondaga County Sheriff’s officers to arrest 33 protesters at the New York Air National Guard’s base at Hancock Field.
The local residents were charged with failing to obtain a DeWitt town permit to march into town and protest the U.S. military’s use of unmanned drones, which is required by law. However, Conway said he did not raise the issue of the protestors not having a permit; rather, county sheriff’s officers took it into their own hands. The charges were later dropped by DeWitt Town Justice David Gideon.
“In 10 years, I’ve never denied a permit,” Conway said at the town boarding meeting, Monday, June 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Conway said the misunderstanding was perpetuated when the Post-Standard published a June 21 editorial implying that the town had raised the issue of the protestors not having a permit in order to stifle their first amendment rights.
But rather than violating anyone’s first amendment rights, Conway said he fully supports the rights of people to protest peacefully in the town of DeWitt.
Barrie Gewanter, director of the Central New York chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, spoke at the meeting and said she had previously met with Conway to discuss the issue. She recommended the board clarify the permit law, and specify under what circumstances a group of people should apply for a permit from the town.
“Given the way that the sheriff is using your law, there needs to be written object criteria that can be understood and clear to all,” Gewanter said to the board members.
Ed Kinane, a member of the Syracuse Peace Council and regular protester at Hancock Field, commended the DeWitt Police Department for the respectful way in which its officers regularly treat protesters.