NYCLU Says NYPD's Handling of Protestors Needs Improvement in Time for Republican Convention

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
April 28, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–Saying that law enforcement crowd control tactics should be improved in time for next year’s Republican Convention here, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) today called on city officials to implement quick reforms. The NYCLU’s suggested changes were highlighted in a 40-page report, released today on the steps of City Hall.

The report, “Arresting Protest,” chronicles the city’s decision to prohibit all demonstrations on February 15, a day designated for worldwide mobilization by anti-war activists. It contains a detailed review of the NYPD’s actions on February 15, provides specific information about nearly 350 eyewitness accounts alleging police misconduct and compares the NYPD’s treatment of protesters with that of law enforcement agencies in cities where other large demonstrations took place that day.

“On February 15th the NYPD engaged in massive interference with a peaceful protest,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “It began with the outright denial of a permit to march and included the use of excessive force — including charging horses into crowds of peaceful demonstrators and pepper spraying people simply trying to get to the rally.”

“The NYPD also violated the constitutional rights of those arrested by subjecting individuals to, among other things, political interrogations, denial of access to counsel and even forcing some to stand chained together outside for a long time in the freezing cold, after spending hours in cold, dark unheated vans without food, water or medical care,” Lieberman added.

The report offers specific recommendations, including a call for an end to the use of physical force against peaceful protesters. In a letter delivered today to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the NYCLU urged the city to consider the report’s recommendations before the large demonstrations that are likely to take place at next year’s Republican convention in New York City.

“What the police did on February 15 was an embarrassment to the city. But it was no accident,” Lieberman said. “The city appears to have a blind spot for civil liberties, as evidenced by its efforts to eviscerate the Handschu settlement, which limits police spying on lawful political activity, and its use of the McCarthyesque ‘Demonstrator Debriefing’ political interrogation forms. The NYPD used the forms to collect and compile information about individuals’ constitutionally protected demonstration activities and political associations before issuing desk appearance tickets and releasing them. The city only agreed to abandon use of these forms after the NYCLU revealed their existence.”

“When the Republican Convention comes to New York City next year, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators will likely be in the streets,” said Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU. “We hope that the City and the Police Department will learn from the mistakes of February 15 so that we do not have the same problems next year.”

A copy of the report is available on line at /node/21964

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