ACLU Calls for Action in Response to Civil Liberties Violations During WTO Protests
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SEATTLE — At a news conference today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington called for a range of actions in response to civil liberties violations by police and city officials during the meeting of the World Trade Organization here last week.
The ACLU said that it is particularly concerned about the city’s imposition of a “no protest” order and the exclusion of most citizens from Seattle’s downtown area, a tactic designed to stifle lawful protest. The ACLU also said it was troubled by the level of force used by police against people who were acting in a nonviolent manner.
“We recognize that police were operating under difficult circumstances and in many instances displayed commendable restraint,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington, “but to the extent that individual police officers used excessive force, they should be held accountable for their actions.”
The ACLU also questioned the city’s strategic and tactical decisions to use pepper spray and rubber bullets against protesters who were engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, and criticized the widespread use of tear gas in areas filled with workers, residents, and other bystanders not directly involved in the protests.
In response, the ACLU is calling for the city to convene an independent commission to investigate the civil liberties implications of the city’s reaction to demonstrations during the week of WTO meetings. Such a panel should be an impartial body with adequate staffing to determine what happened and why it happened, and to make recommendations to enable the city to better handle large-scale protests in the future.
“We must take this opportunity to assess what was done and learn from the unfortunate events of the past week,” Taylor said. “While we may not have an event like WTO here again soon, other events will occasion protest.”
Taylor said the ACLU plans to submit its own report on the handling of the demonstrations and will make recommendations on policies to guide the city in respecting the First Amendment rights of all people.
In addition, the ACLU is proceeding with a lawsuit filed last Wednesday seeking to have the imposition of the “no-protest” order and militarized zone declared unconstitutional. The city’s order banned most citizens from entering a more than 20-square-block area unless they were employees or owners of a business, residents, WTO delegates, or public safety personnel.
The ACLU said the order was enforced with great selectivity and was designed to prohibit all forms of expression of protest about the WTO, including the carrying of picket signs and the wearing of political stickers, even for people the police allowed in.
Although a federal judge declined to issue an immediate order to dissolve the zone during the protests last week, the ACLU said that it will proceed with its lawsuit in order to secure a precedent to permit lawful protest in future demonstrations.
To assist in formulating its report recommendations, the ACLU-WA is gathering information from citizens who personally experienced or directly witnessed incidents of excessive force by police and other violations of civil liberties.
The ACLU-WA is accepting reports of such incidents from citizens on its website at www.aclu-wa.org and via its hotline at (206) 624-2180. In processing the incident reports, the ACLU-WA will draw on the experience of the ACLU’s national campaign on “Driving While Black,” which is using the web to gather reports of incidents of racial profiling, similar to the one experienced by Seattle City Council member Richard McIver during the WTO events.
A copy of the ACLU flyer distributed to solicit citizen input is available online at: /news/1999/n120699aflyer.html.
The ACLU’s letter to the mayor of Seattle follows:
December 3, 1999
Mayor Paul Schell
600 Fourth Avenue, 12th Floor
Seattle, WA 98104
Re: Call for Civil Rights Investigatory Panel
Dear Mayor Schell:
The American Civil Liberties Union calls for the City of Seattle to convene an independent commission to investigate the civil rights implications of the City’s responses to demonstrations during the week of the World Trade Organization conference. Because Seattle is unquestionably a global city where international events will be occurring in the future, it is imperative that the opportunity to learn from recent unfortunate events is not lost.
The panel that studied police accountability earlier this year provides a good model for a WTO civil rights investigatory panel. The City should, at the earliest opportunity, appoint a similar panel of respected and competent community leaders, provide them with sufficient staff and resources to investigate, and make a full and public report and recommendation to the City.
In addition, we seek an early opportunity to discuss with you and your staff ways to address the violations of constitutional rights that have occurred.
Executive Director, ACLU of Washington
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