FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Protestors Win in 2004 RNC Protest Mass Arrest Case in NYC

by DAVE LINDORFF

On the morning of the big march through midtown Manhattan on the opening day of the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004, I and a few friends were having breakfast at a little coffee shop near 96th Street on the Upper West Side. We had a few homemade signs and were clearly headed for a political action. Across from us were three New York City cops, carrying riot helmets, having their breakfast. They were clearly headed to the same place we were.

After we had finished our breakfasts, we all headed for the subway — the cops and us.  We ended up seated across from each other on a downtown train.

Each of the cops had a bag. I asked one of them what he had in the bag. He reached in and pulled up a big fistful of white nylon handcuff straps of the kind favored by police for mass arrests — the kind made of almost unbreakable plastic straps with slip-tight ridges on them so that the arresting officer can yank it tight so that the only way to remove it is to cut it off.

“I see you’re prepared for a lot of arrests,” I said.

“Yeah,” he replied. “We’re ready for you!”

“Well, don’t arrest us when you see us!” I said.

The officer smiled.

As it turns out, none of us was arrested, but hundreds of marchers were. The bags of cuffs those officers were carrying makes it clear that was the city’s intention from the outset.

Yesterday, eight years after that march, a federal judge ruled that the mass arrests, made in sweeps by the police, were illegal, violating the probable cause requirement inherent in the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

As Judge Richard J. Sullivan wrote in a 32-page opinion, “An individual;s participation in a lawbreaking group may, in appropriate circumstances, be strong circumstantial evidence of that individual’s own illegal conduct,” but no matter the circumstances, an arresting officer must believe that every individual arrested personally violated the law. Nothing short of such a finding can justify arrest.  The Fourth Amendment does not recognize built by association.”

The ruling was not a complete win. Judge Sullivan rejected the claim by plaintiffs in the false-arrest lawsuit that their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom to seek redress for grievances had been violated by the mass arrests, but lawyers for the plaintiffs said it was nonetheless a strong blow against the increasingly common police tactic of mass arrests of protesters in demonstrations.  Christopher T. Dunn, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, who represented some of the victims of the arrests, said the judge, in his ruling, had “emphatically rejected the city’s claim that it could make mass arrests of protestors.”

Of course, since those 2004 mass arrests at the 2004 RNC protests, there have been many more mass arrests in New York, as the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has taken a tough line against protest. This has been particularly true over the past year of Occupy Wall Street protests, where police have been particularly aggressive in not only arresting but brutalizing protesters against the big financial corporations that have collectively wrecked and pillaged the US economy.

While the judge’s slapdown of one mass arrest by the NYPD is an important legal win for the right to protest, the fact that it took eight years to get that judgement diminishes it significantly. The reality is that police in New York and in cities across the country, and the authorities who order them to block Constitutionally-protected political protests, don’t really care much about legalities. They realize that they can act with almost complete impunity to break up protests and intimidate activists through brutality and mass arrests, lock up demonstrators for a day or longer to get them off the streets, as was the case in this particular incident brought before Judge Sullivan, and just pay the penalty later (the judge has yet to fine New York City for its violation of the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights, and to decide whether to issue an injunction against such mass arrests in the future). And of course, the city can still drag things out further by appealing Sullivan’s ultimate decision, including any injunction, and his ruling could be overturned–though it may just prefer to accept the judgement since if it were upheld on appeal, it would then be binding for the whole circuit, which encompasses all of New York State, Connecticut and Vermont. It could also be cited as a precedent in arguments by plaintiffs in mass arrest cases anywhere in the country.

We just saw the same tactic of mass arrests employed at a protest against Walmart, in Elwood, Illinois, where 650 people rallied to support striking Walmart warehouse workers protesting “poverty wages,” sexual harassment and extreme work conditions.”  Police in riot gear there, working in tandem with Walmart private security goons, surrounded, roughed up and arrested demonstrators and threatened others with “chemical or less lethal munitions” if they didn’t disperse.

Police state-tactics have become the default response in today’s America to peaceful protest.

While one federal judge’s ruling against the practice is a step in the right direction, there are many, many steps being taken in the wrong direction all the time.

Unless all Americans wake up to what is happening to policing in this country, and to the way political authorities are trashing basic civil liberties in order to repress dissent, the day will come when any two people with a sign will find themselves being  tackled and hauled off to jail — the situation that prevails in places like China, Cuba, Burma or Saudi Arabia.

Dave Lindorff is a  founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The Greatest Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail