Government Plotted to Disrupt Peaceful Protests, Rights Groups Charge

July 27, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The United States and District of Columbia governments deliberately plotted to disrupt and stifle peaceful protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, according to a lawsuit filed by civil rights and protest groups here today.

The class action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District court by the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, the National Police Accountability Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Partnership for Civil Justice, on behalf of Fifty Years is Enough, the International Action Center, the Mobilization for Global Justice, and other organizations and individuals who participated in the April, 2000, protests in Washington, D.C.

“In this country, the government is supposed to protect the constitutional right to protest,” said Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area. “But the evidence in this case will show that D.C. and federal officials deliberately sabotaged those rights.”

“We recognize that some demonstrators engaged in civil disobedience last April,” Spitzer added. “But we expect the police to obey the law, whether or not others do.”

The lawsuit claims that federal and D.C. government agencies and officers unlawfully intimidated, harassed and disrupted the protests:

  • falsely portrayed the protesters as threatening violence
  • maliciously closed the protesters’ headquarters for pretextual fire code violations
  • confiscated protesters political literature, banners, and medical supplies
  • wrongfully barred protesters from demonstrating near the World Bank-IMF meetings
  • arrested hundreds of protesters without cause, and
  • used excessive force against non-violent demonstrators.

All this, the groups charged, was done in order to prevent the protesters from exercising their constitutional rights of freedom of speech and assembly. The lawsuit seeks money damages for people whose rights were violated, and court orders prohibiting the government from interfering unlawfully with future protests. Today’s case is being filed in the wake of a similar lawsuit recently filed by the ACLU in Seattle, claiming that Seattle police unconstitutionally banned protesters from demonstrating at the International Monetary Fund meeting there last fall.

Within the past few weeks, the ACLU has also sued the cities of Philadelphia and Los Angeles, where officials attempted to confine protesters at the upcoming Republican and Democratic Party Conventions to small areas far removed from the convention sites.

On July 20, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that the protesters had a right to bring their message within sight and sound of the convention, and the Philadelphia case was settled when the city agreed to make closer protest sites available.

“These efforts around the country to prevent protesters from bringing their messages to their intended audiences are very troubling,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, of the Partnership for Civil Justice. “These dissenters, and the people on whose behalf they advocate, are not allowed a seat at the table of the non-democratic bodies that they oppose, or cannot afford the price that political representatives charge to hear their views. The only way that they can be heard is when they take to the streets and speak in unison.”

Dan Schember, on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild’s National Police Accountability Project, added, “It’s unreasonable to exclude lawful demonstrators from a large area of sidewalks, streets and parks near the World Bank just because other demonstrators may sit down in the street. Police may move and arrest those who block the street, and that is all that is justified.”

No date has yet been set for a court hearing.

Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of: Fifty Years is Enough, an organization that since 1994 has lawfully protested annually outside World Bank-IMF meetings. The Mobilization for Global Justice, the umbrella organization that coordinated the World Bank-IMF protests in April, 2000. The International Action Center, based in New York, which sponsored the “Prison Industrial Complex” demonstration on April 15, 2000, at which more than 600 people were arrested without cause. Individuals who were victims of false arrest and police brutality.

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