ACLU Seeks Court Order to Stop LAPD from Harassing and Intimidating Convention Protesters

August 10, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — The ACLU of Southern California filed a federal lawsuit today seeking a restraining order to stop the Los Angeles Police Department’s harassment and intimidation of protesters at and near the protesters’ organizing headquarters.

“Police harassment of protesters is contrary to our nation’s democratic principles,” said Dan Tokaji, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “Spying and the harassment of political protesters is the hallmark of a police state, and must not be tolerated here.”

The protesters’ headquarters, known as the Convergence Center, have been subjected to heavy surveillance by the police department and visits without warrants from the police and fire departments. Individual protesters have been harassed by police through selective enforcement of traffic laws in the area, and Convergence Center neighbors have been asked by police to spy on the groups.

“The LAPD is engaged in a campaign to chill free speech and make people afraid to exercise their Constitutionally guaranteed rights,” Tokaji said. “The police do not have carte blanche to harass and intimidate people simply because the Democratic National Convention is coming to town.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed after the ACLU sent a warning letter to the police last week. The lawsuit asks the court to order the police not to enter the Convergence Center, to discontinue surveillance of the Center, not to interfere with trainings and meetings at the Center, and not to confiscate any signs, banners, puppets, or other expressive paraphernalia associated with lawful protest activity.

The Convergence Center is lawfully leased by the Community Arts Network and will be used by protesters before and during the convention as they plan protests, make posters, banners, and puppets, and answer media inquiries.

“The Convergence Center is a critical hub of this movement’s free speech activities,” said Tokaji. “Police harassment and surveillance strike directly at the protesters’ ability to express themselves without fear of retaliation.”

“This is a crisis of democracy in Los Angeles when protesters can’t rent even a building without being harassed and intimidated by the LAPD,” Tokaji added. “We must create viable spaces for public dissent if we want to have a healthy democracy. LAPD is doing everything it can to close those spaces down and frighten protesters into silence.”

The ACLU is joined by private attorneys Carol Sobel and Robert Myers and Professor Karl Manheim in filing today’s lawsuit.

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