NYCLU Urges Commissioner Kelly to Take Steps to Protect Protest Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
October 20, 2011 5:50 pm

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The New York Civil Liberties Union today called on NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly to take steps to protect the free speech rights of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in New York City by ending the blanket videotaping by the Department of peaceful protesters, allowing the demonstrators to pitch tents and set up portable toilets, and preventing further mass arrests and the use of excessive force.

In a letter to Commissioner Kelly, the NYCLU acknowledges that the NYPD has taken measures to accommodate the protest, particularly by allowing the protestors to remain at their headquarters in Zuccotti Park. But it expresses several concerns about the policing of the protest.

“Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have expressed their intentions to respect the right to protest, but even the best intentions must be supported by action,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “While we applaud the decision to allow the protestors to remain in Zuccotti Park, we have seen the police intimidate protesters by routinely videotaping all of their activities. Blanket surveillance chills speech and may well be unlawful. In light of Mayor Bloomberg’s observation that these protests are peaceful, the NYPD should end the blanket videotaping of First Amendment activity.”

The Police Department should also allow the group to use tents so as to ensure the safety of protesters as the weather turns colder, and reverse its decision to deny a request to place portable toilets near Zuccotti Park.

The NYCLU leadership is further concerned about unnecessary mass arrests by police officers, particularly the inappropriate and unnecessary arrest of 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge. The NYCLU’s letter calls on Kelly to work with the District Attorney’s office to dismiss most, if not all, of the summonses issued to marchers. Additionally, the NYPD must do more to warn protestors it believes are unlawfully marching in city streets or blocking sidewalks. NYCLU legal observers have been present in several locations when officers aggressively dispersed people who were lawfully standing on the sidewalk.

Finally, the NYCLU is concerned about the NYPD’s response to some reported incidents of excessive force, particularly statements by Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the Department’s primary spokesman, endorsing Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna’s use of pepper spray on protestors who appeared to pose no threat and were confined in crowd-control netting. The letter calls on the NYPD to make clear that it will not tolerate excessive force and will discipline any officers who engage in it.

“The Police Department has done a lot of things right in the month since the occupation of Zuccotti Park began, but we’ve also seen too many arrests of lawful protesters and some disturbing use of force against protesters,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn. “Occupy Wall Street has become a national test of the First Amendment, and Commissioner Kelly can and must do more to ensure that his officers respect and protect the right to protest.”

To read the NYCLU’s full letter, visit

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