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).

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It.
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail