Bowing to NYCLU Lawsuit, NYPD Agrees to Stop Jailing Protestors

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
July 12, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–In a victory for the First Amendment right to protest, the New York City Police Department today agreed to rescind its policy of jailing people who commit minor offenses at protests and demonstrations.

“”This policy should never have been put into place to begin with — it perfectly symbolizes the Giuliani Administration’s hostility to the right of New Yorkers to protest,”” said Christopher Dunn, a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the policy. “”We welcome the City’s withdrawal of the policy, although we remain concerned that the withdrawal has not been clearly communicated to NYPD commands.””

The NYCLU had filed a lawsuit on May 30, alleging that the policy, which resulted in all persons arrested for minor offenses at demonstrations being held in police custody for long periods of time — and often overnight — violated the First Amendment rights of New Yorkers. The NYPD has sent out a message to all commands announcing withdrawal of the policy.

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.

Donna Lieberman, Interim Executive Director of the NYCLU, hailed the city’s action. “”This was an outrageous policy that flagrantly violated the First Amendment,”” she said. “”We are pleased that our challenge has forced to the NYPD to rescind this policy.””

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