NYCLU Concerned About Change in Police Tactics During Peaceful Protests

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
August 31, 2004 12:00 am

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NYCLU Calls on NYPD to Exercise Restraint and Moderation During Today’s Direct Action

NEW YORK — As the Republican National Convention continues its second day and protests surrounding the RNC continue for the fifth day, the New York Civil Liberties Union today expressed concern about the change in tone and tactics of the New York Police Department.

The weekend of demonstrations and rallies by protesters were marked largely by appropriate police activity that was respectful of the constitutional rights of demonstrators. But last night’s events during the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights demonstration disintegrated into a chaotic scene. It showed a change in tactics that were a continuation of what the NYCLU witnessed witness Sunday night in Times Square when police made sweeping arrests that did not distinguish between lawful protest and unlawful.

“The good news on Monday was that the NYPD exhibited appropriate flexibility to allow the march,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “But the problem was the sudden use of pens and the subsequent use of plain-clothed police on scooters against the crowd. Our 17 monitors, including staff attorneys, reported heavy-handed actions by the NYPD that needlessly interfered with the march.”

The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Project is a coalition of 50 organizations that requested a permit to march near Madison Square Garden on the opening night of the convention. Their permit request was denied and the group’s rally was assigned to Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza near the United Nations. The group had made it known to the NYPD for some time that it planned to march to RNC at Madison Square Garden, with or without a permit.

At the rally, the NYPD carefully negotiated a route with the coalition. After several delays, the thousands of marchers proceeded for nearly three hours on a meandering course from east to west and south to north throughout mid-town Manhattan. When the marchers approached the symbol of their protests — the Garden — they were confronted by police tactics that altered the peaceful climate.

Police erected pens that divided the crowd in half, leaving those within the barricades feeling panicked and fearful, and those left behind feeling frustrated. The NYCLU had challenged the use of pens during peaceful protests in its federal lawsuit earlier this summer, in a lawsuit that detailed how their use typically results in unfortunate situations that can inflame the crowd. Last night, the NYCLU observed officers wildly riding into the crowd on scooters, a questionable tactic for maintaining order.

“Last night’s display of police power did little to instill confidence that the NYPD will balance the rights of protesters to freedom of expression with the need to maintain order,” Lieberman said.

Today will mark more challenges for the NYPD, and this time there will be little warning or negotiations about how the police will react. The NYCLU called on police officials to continue to show the restraint that was admirably on display this weekend.

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