ACLU Cautions Miami Police in Handling of Elian Gonzalez Protests

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
April 27, 2000 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Florida
Media Contact
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New York, NY 10004
United States


MIAMI — Thousands of residents here have been rallying and demonstrating to express their views in connection with the federal government’s seizure of Elian Gonzalez this past weekend. Many of those arrested, and many others participating in the demonstrations, have called the ACLU for legal assistance and to complain about overly aggressive police tactics.

The vigorous public expression of controversial views is a cherished and vital part of American democracy, protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution. Whether the government agrees or disagrees with their views, peaceful demonstrators are always welcome.

There are indications that some, but not most, demonstrators have engaged in unlawful conduct as part of these demonstrations. While the police have a right and a duty to enforce the law, an essential part of the law is that the police may use force only if, and only to the extent that, it is necessary to protect persons or property or to make a valid arrest. Thus, non-violent protest — even if unlawful — should always be met by a non-violent response.

Some of the complaints filed with the ACLU include:

  • the use of force against non-violent demonstrators, in some instances resulting in physical injuries;
  • the inappropriate use of pepper spray;
  • the use of force after the physical restraint of those arrested has been secured;
  • the excessive show of force leading to an escalation of tensions;
  • the arrests of bystanders and on-lookers who are not violating the law;
  • the placement of juveniles with adult arrestees;
  • arrestees not receiving the charging documents that inform those arrested of the charges filed against them.

The ACLU will continue to monitor events and police practices as they unfold.

In recent years, local law enforcement agencies have shown their ability to deal with large demonstrations in a manner generally respectful of constitutional rights. We believe that the great majority of demonstrators are respecting the law, and we expect that the police will obey the law, whether or not the demonstrators do.

As always, if constitutional rights are threatened or violated, the ACLU stands ready to take appropriate action. The ACLU office is available to receive complaints from the public.

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