NYC Agrees to Destroy Fingerprints Taken from Protesters During Republican National Convention

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
October 20, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK-Under pressure from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the city today agreed to destroy all fingerprints taken from protesters arrested for minor offenses during last summer’s Republican National Convention. The agreement comes two weeks after the NYCLU filed two lawsuits challenging the routine fingerprinting of protesters as well as other practices by the Police Department, and is part of an ongoing negotiation between the NYCLU and the city to change police practices currently used against protesters.

“The NYCLU welcomes this move by the city to right an unjustifiable wrong,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “By state law, people arrested for minor offenses should never be subjected to routine fingerprinting. Certainly, it should not be a routine outcome for those who are arrested after they engage in political protest.”

According to the NYCLU, New York law allows police to take the fingerprints of those charged with minor violations such as disorderly conduct only if they are unable to ascertain the person’s identity, suspect that the identification given by the person is not accurate, or reasonably believe the person is wanted for another criminal offense. However, numerous reports indicate that the Police Department systematically fingerprinted nearly 1,500 people arrested during the convention, regardless of whether the person had valid identification and without any reason to believe the person might have been sought by law enforcement.

In addition to the expunging effort that begins today, the city also has informed the NYCLU that neither the state police nor the FBI retains the fingerprints, which police officials previously supplied to them after the arrests.

“We remain concerned about whether any fingerprints remain in the possession of Albany or the FBI,” said Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU. “However, the agreement we’ve reached with the city on this matter is a good first step and we will continue to press the city to halt the practice of fingerprinting demonstrators charged with minor offenses.”

The NYCLU continues its efforts to change police practices employed against protesters and innocent bystanders during the Republican National Convention in its two lawsuits filed October 7. In addition to the systematic fingerprinting practice, the lawsuits specifically challenge the indiscriminate, mass arrests of people, including observers and bystanders, who had assembled peacefully and lawfully on public sidewalks and the unjustified and unexplained lengthy detentions of those arrested in a filthy bus depot, Pier 57. The cases, which are the first filed since the convention, seek court orders stating that these practices are unlawful in order to ensure that they are not used at future demonstrations in New York City.

In addition to the current NYCLU legal challenges, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office agreed on October 6 to dismiss the criminal prosecutions of 227 people arrested at a demonstration near the World Trade Center during the convention. That action followed meetings between District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office and the NYCLU, during which the organization provided videotape footage depicting the unlawful arrests of these protesters.

For more information on the lawsuits challenging police practices during the convention, go to /node/9161

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