On January 9, 2011, Al-Awda New York (as part of a coalition including: US Palestinian Community Network-NY, International Action Center, Hunter Students for Justice in Palestine, American Muslims for Palestine-NJ, American Muslims for Palestine-NY, Existence is Resistance, Palestinian Club – Brooklyn College, Columbia U. Students for Justice in Palestine, FiRE-Gabriela USA, Siege Busters Working Group, United National Antiwar Committee-NY, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, BAYAN USA, New York City Labor Against the War, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Labor for Palestine, International Socialist Organization, Socialist Action, ANSWER-NY, WESPAC) called for a rally marking the second anniversary of Israel’s assault on Gaza, “Operation Cast Lead.”

The rally gathered at 1 pm at 33rd Street and 6th Avenue, and over 300 participated. Following the protest, several participants encountered John Kenny as they separately left the protest, walking near a local pizza shop. Kenny was shouting at four Muslim young women after the protest, who were going together to get pizza. The Socialist Worker reported that Kenny stated, among other things, “Go back to your country you [expletive] terrorist.”

Michael Williams defended the young women, demanding Kenny leave them alone. As noted by the Socialist Worker, “Enraged, Kenny pursued Williams, assaulted him and took [Williams’] bullhorn, though not before allegedly being struck in the face by the bullhorn. Despite witness testimony and photographic evidence corroborating that Joe Kenny pursed Williams and that Williams repeatedly backed away, Williams was arrested and charged with first-degree assault.”

At trial, the prosecutor questioned the teenage witnesses about their political views, including their opinions about war on Iran, and asked them if they viewed Williams as a ‘martyr’.

Not only was Williams unjustly targeted for defending young women being harassed with racist slurs, he was not a member or representative of Al-Awda, nor a protest organizer.  Kenny has now filed the current lawsuit against Al-Awda, attempting to hold Al-Awda responsible for the injuries he suffered after a protest he did not attend, when a man defending young women Kenny was harassing also defended himself.

Street demonstrations and assemblies are open to the public, free forums for the expression of political views. The lawsuit against Al-Awda aims to essentially forbid street protest by making the convener of any public, outdoor action liable for any event following a protest – regardless of what happened, or any connection to the organizers themselves. It is a direct assault on freedom of assembly and association – and a threat to every protest organizer in the city of New York.