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Wednesday
Aug202008

New York City Loses Another Civil Liberties Suit


They can spin it all they want, but a $2M settlement is a defeat in my book. Good for the plaintiffs in this case. 52 people were peacefully protesting on a city sidewalk on April 7th 2003, when the NYPD rounded up and arrested them. Unfortunately, justice will not be given to the nearly 2,000 protesters who were arrested, thrown into detention pens, and denied their constitutional rights for over 24 hours during the Republican National Convention just over a year later. The 2003 incident could have been a warm-up for the RNC, because the tactic they used was similar to what they did during the RNC. The police cut-off West 53rd Street, surrounded the protesters, and then arrested them all:


Lawyers said that..people were arrested without police warning or without providing an opportunity for anyone to leave.

During the 2004 RNC, the NYPD had perfected this tactic so that they turned side streets into 'traps.' By cutting off access to the east and west avenues, everyone trapped on the street could be taken into custody. The police even used scooters and nets to perform these sweeping mass arrests. In at least one reported case, they directed pedestrians and bicyclists to turn onto a street where they were subsequently trapped and arrested. Many of those arrested weren't even involved in the protests, such as the famous case of bicyclist Alexander Pincus, who was directed to ride his bike into a trap after picking-up soup for his girlfriend at the now defunct Second Avenue Deli.

And last week, we got some good news regarding the 2004 RNC tactics. A federal judge has ordered the city to turn-over NYPD reports and summaries of their intelligence-gathering of protest groups prior to and during the 2004 RNC. The city will appeal, but perhaps this means that we're a year or so away from determining the depth of the NYPD's spying program. The documents detail which groups were spied on and/or infiltrated by undercover officers, and include summaries of what intelligence was obtained from each group.

I have always asked (and I assume others ask it as well) - was there any overlap between the NYPD surveillance and spying by the NSA or FBI? In other words, was the NYPD spying on groups that the FBI had already looked at (or didn't bother looking at)? Did the NYPD go beyond what the feds were doing? What made the NYPD commit to an expensive surveillance program if the feds weren't concerned with the target groups? Or if the feds were watching the groups, what made Commissioner Ray Kelly think that the NYPD could do a better job? Did the NYPD tell the feds that they were doing this? Did the NYPD spy on groups outside the US? Wouldn't that be the NSA's responsibility? We know there is historic tension and mistrust between the FBI and local law enforcement, but this would make a great case study by a criminal justice or legal scholar.

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