An antiwar speech by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iaq, was cut short yesterday after the organizer of the event was arrested and police officers confiscated his audio equipment.
The claps and cheers that had greeted Ms. Sheehan's arrival at the rally in Union Square quickly turned to furious chants of "Let her speak!" as officers ushered away the organizer, Paul Zulkowitz, who the police said lacked audio permits for the event.
Angry activists followed officers as they led Mr. Zulkowitz away, waving their fists and shouting, "Shame, shame, shame." Ms. Sheehan, who was visiting New York on the last leg of a bus tour across the country, was nearing the end of her speech when the police officers arrested Mr. Zulkowitz. She was whisked to a car by two supporters just before the police officers seized the microphone. Mr. Zulkowitz was arrested because he did not have a permit, said the commanding officer of the 13th Precinct, Inspector Michael J. McEnroy.
Detective Kevin Czartoryski said Mr. Zulkowitz was charged with unauthorized use of a sound device and disorderly conduct, and was released after being given a court summons.
Detective Czartoryski said the police had taken the "appropriate action" in response to a lawbreaker.
But many people attending the event, dozens of whom yelled accusations into the faces of the more than 20 police officers who blocked them from following Mr. Zulkowitz, interpreted the arrest as a demonstration of citywide disdain for free speech, referring to last year's arrests of protesters at the Republican National Convention.
"This is what's been happening for the last couple of years," said Daniel Starling, the co-chairman of the Green Party chapter in Manhattan, who attended the event yesterday. "Every time we try to hold a demonstration, they arrest us."
The crowd of New Yorkers had waited more than an hour to catch a glimpse of Ms. Sheehan, who was thrust into the national spotlight in August when she sought a meeting with President Bush by camping out for days near his ranch in Crawford, Tex. Though soft-spoken, Ms. Sheehan has not shied away from controversy, opening her New York visit on Sunday night in Brooklyn by accusing Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of failing to challenge the Bush administration's policies in Iraq.
Ms. Sheehan, who did not mention Ms. Clinton yesterday, urged her supporters in Union Square to continue pushing to end the war in Iraq. One supporter, Lien Corey, a 51-year-old Manhattan resident who was living in Vietnam during the war there, said that Ms. Sheehan had become a larger-than-life figure who represents the sentiments of many people across the country. "She's beyond herself now, she's a symbol," Ms. Corey said. "She's a catalyst, and we all unite behind her."
Ms. Sheehan, who has been credited by many activists with reinvigorating the antiwar movement in the United States, began speaking out against the war in Iraq soon after her 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Baghdad on April 2, 2004. She attributes her sudden fame to the news media's need to find a "focal point" on certain high-profile issues like the Iraq war.
At a news conference in Chelsea earlier in the day, she said she regretted not speaking out sooner.
"I didn't think that one person could make a difference," Ms. Sheehan said. "After Casey was killed, I thought, well if I can't make a difference, at least I'm going to my grave knowing I tried."
Although many opponents of the war said they were thrilled by the attention Ms. Sheehan has attracted to the cause, some are frustrated by her celebrity status, which they said can deflect the focus away from other issues.
After the news conference, George Weber, 57, a Vietnam War veteran from Warwick, N.Y., said little attention was being paid to issues of concern to veterans, like the possible closing of the Manhattan Veterans Affairs hospital.
Ms. Sheehan's message has been heard across the nation on television ads sponsored by antiwar groups and at well-publicized stops on her bus tour, which was launched from Crawford on Aug. 31 and has visited 51 cities in 28 states. She has been joined on her journey by families of soldiers and veterans, many of whom have been working for years to rally people against war.
Many New Yorkers said yesterday that Ms. Sheehan gave them back hope that was lost when war was declared on Iraq.
Laurie Arbeiter, 46, of Brooklyn, said she flew to Crawford in August and spent two weeks camped out with Ms. Sheehan and others.
Ms. Arbeiter said that the arrest of the event organizer, Mr. Zulkowitz, was another example of the "country's suppression of dissent."
"We are being railroaded toward a state in which we can't speak up," she said.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company