Court Ruling Halts Restrictive NYPD Practices During Protests; Decision Comes in Anticipation of Republican National Convention

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
July 19, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–In an historic victory for the right to protest, a federal judge today ruled in favor of the New York Civil Liberties Union and ordered the New York Police Department to stop using unconstitutional tactics at large demonstrations, including various controversial practices expected to be used in August at the Republican National Convention.

“With this victory, the NYCLU and other groups now will be able to hold lawful demonstrations without fear of overly restrictive police practices,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Judge Sweet has struck a reasonable balance between the First Amendment and concerns about safety, and we believe his ruling will lead to better and safer demonstrations in New York City.”

In a 78-page decision, District Court Judge Robert Sweet ruled that the NYPD cannot close streets and sidewalks leading to demonstration sites without informing the public about alternate ways to get to the demonstrations. Judge Sweet also ruled that police cannot use “pens” made of interlocking metal barricades at demonstrations without ensuring that demonstrators can reasonably get in and out of them, nor can they conduct generalized searches of the bags of people seeking to enter demonstration sites.

“In the context of the tumult over demonstrations at the Republican National Convention, this is an historic victory for the right to protest,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, who tried the case. “This ruling blocks practices that have severely restricted the right to protest lawfully while leaving intact NYPD actions that we recognize are appropriate to preserve safety and public order. Judge Sweet’s decision is good for the First Amendment and good for New York City.”

Today’s ruling came in response to a June hearing in which numerous protesters and protest groups testified about problems caused by the NYPD’s overly restrictive tactics. Judge Sweet’s ruling supported the concerns raised by the NYCLU, with the exception of a complaint against the department’s use of mounted officers to disperse crowds. (Judge Sweet stated that for technical reasons, the NYCLU could not pursue its challenge to the Mounted Unit.)

NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito testified at the hearing that the policy changes sought by the protest groups would not undermine the city’s law enforcement or terrorism concerns.

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