NYCLU Calls On Mayor Bloomberg to Protect Peaceful Protest, Avoid Mass Arrests At Republican National Convention
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK — In response to reports that the New York Police Department is gearing up to arrest 1,000 people a day during the upcoming Republican National Convention, the New York Civil Liberties Union today said it has sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg demanding that he protect the right of peaceful protest.
In its letter, the NYCLU expressed the concern that Police Department statements about mass arrests are “”irresponsible and do nothing more than create a wholly unnecessary atmosphere of tension surrounding Convention protests.”” According to the letter, “”If the Department chooses to highlight potential disorder and conflict with police officers, law-abiding organizations are intimidated, and many people of goodwill will become fearful of attending the event.””
The letter also pointed out that “”hostile statements from high-level officials about an event convey to officers who actually police the event an attitude that produces excessive and unnecessary conflict.””
The NYCLU represents many organizations planning protest activity during the Convention, which is scheduled from August 30 to September 3. As is true with virtually all groups holding demonstrations in New York City, these groups are seeking to hold lawful events with appropriate permits.
“”We have every reason to believe that the Convention protests will be lawful and peaceful,”” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn. “”Threats of mass arrests by the NYPD can do little but intimidate people from exercising their First Amendment rights this summer.””
“”We recognize that a small number of people may commit civil disobedience or other more serious offenses,”” Dunn added, “”but the NYPD cannot be permitted to use the actions of a few to serve as a justification for a broad crackdown on the large-scale peaceful and lawful protest activity scheduled to take place during the Convention. Mayor Bloomberg needs to step into this issue.””
The letter follows.
March 11, 2004
Michael R. Bloomberg
City of New York
Dear Mayor Bloomberg:
We write in response to reports earlier this week that the Police Department has notified the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to prepare for 1,000 arrests per day during the upcoming Republican National Convention. We are deeply alarmed by what these reports suggest about the NYPD’s approach to demonstrations at the Convention and write to request that you take steps to assure that the right to protest at this national event will not be improperly chilled by inappropriate Police Department actions.
The NYCLU represents many groups seeking to engage in protest activity during the Convention. As is true with virtually all groups holding demonstrations in New York City, these groups are seeking to hold lawful events with appropriate permits.
The events being scheduled by these and other groups are likely to draw large numbers of demonstrators who wish to have their voices heard in the streets of Manhattan. Organizers expect these protests to be attended by people from all walks of life: New York City residents and out-of-towners, parents and children, the able-bodied and disabled, the young and the old. And as is evident from the countless large demonstrations that have taken place in New York City for decades, there is every reason to believe that these demonstrations will be peaceful and orderly.
We know from extensive experience, however, that advance statements from the Police Department can change the entire tenor of an event. If the Department chooses to highlight potential disorder and conflict with police officers, law-abiding organizations are intimidated, and many people of good will become fearful of attending the event. (We are confident, for instance, that you yourself have friends and acquaintances who might well attend a peaceful Convention demonstration but who would be deterred from doing so by Police Department predictions of mass arrests.) Moreover, hostile statements from high-level officials about an event convey to officers who actually police the event an attitude that produces excessive and unnecessary conflict.
The impact of the Department’s approach towards an event is perhaps best exemplified by the two large anti-war events that took place last year on February 15 and March 22. These huge events were organized by the same group and attended by many of the same people. As a result of hostile actions by the NYPD, the February 15 event was marred by many serious problems. By sharp contrast, the NYPD approached the March 22 event with a fundamentally different and more cooperative attitude, and that event was a huge success and occurred virtually without problem.
We therefore are deeply disturbed by the reports this week about Police Department statements expecting 1,000 arrests per day during convention protests. Given the long history of peaceful protest in this city, suggestions of this sort seem irresponsible and do nothing more than create a wholly unnecessary atmosphere of tension surrounding Convention protests.
We recognize that some small number of persons participating in Convention protests may engage in civil disobedience or even commit more serious offenses. And the police of course should take measured and appropriate action against such persons. However, the NYPD cannot be permitted to use the actions of a few to serve as a justification for a broad crackdown on the large-scale peaceful and lawful protest activity scheduled to take place during the Convention.
In light of the importance of creating a positive atmosphere around protest activity at the Convention and of doing so now, we once again urge you to become personally involved in this matter. We were disappointed in the response we received from Deputy Mayor Carol Robles-Roman to our earlier letter to you about the Convention, but we hope that this week’s developments will spur you to take a more active role in the City’s approach to Convention demonstrations.
Once again, we ask to meet with you and other appropriate City officials at your earliest convenience to discuss these matters.
Associate Legal Director
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