NYCLU Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging New York's Policy of Jailing Protesters

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
May 30, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the police department’s policy of jailing people who commit minor offenses at protests and demonstrations.

“”This policy perfectly symbolizes the Giuliani Administration’s hostility to the First Amendment and to protest activity in New York City,”” said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Christopher Dunn.

adams_press release

Locking up protesters is not good policing, according to Eric Adams, a New York City police lieutenant and president of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement. Adams, pictured with NYCLU senior attorney Christopher Dunn (right) spoke at a news conference in Manhattan today.

In legal papers filed on behalf of two protesters, the NYCLU said that the policy is unconstitutional because it treats people more harshly when they commit an offense at a protest than if they commit it elsewhere.

Under normal circumstances, individuals who are arrested and charged with minor offenses — such as blocking traffic — are eligible for what is known as a “”desk appearance ticket,”” which requires them to appear in court at a future date and allows them to be released from custody.

But under the city’s demonstration policy, individuals charged with minor offenses that occur in conjunction with a demonstration are not given desk appearance tickets but instead are “”put through the system”” and held in jail for arraignment.

As a result of this policy, which was apparently put in place in 1999 in the wake of demonstrations following the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo, persons charged with minor offenses at demonstrations have been held in jail overnight.

One NYCLU client, 54-year-old investment banker Pamela Martens, was arrested at a protest in April held by the National Organization for Women outside a bank. She was charged with blocking a crosswalk and disobeying an order to disperse. Instead of receiving a desk appearance ticket, Martens was held for several hours in police custody until she was arraigned.

A second NYCLU client, Charles King, is one of the leaders of Housing Works, a nonprofit advocacy group that provides housing and services to people with AIDS and H.I.V. The group occasionally participates in protests and acts of civil disobedience. Mr. King and other Housing Works employees have routinely been held overnight in jail, according to the NYCLU’s complaint.

“”Trying to keep New Yorkers from expressing their opinions is not only unconstitutional, it is a losing battle,”” said NYCLU Interim Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “”We call on Mayor Giuliani to end this illegal practice immediately.””

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