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Report: Police Response to Occupy Protests Violates Constitutional Rights

by Damon Eris, published
Credit: ABC News


Last week, a team of legal experts filed a complaint with New York City, the U.S. Department of Justice and the United Nations calling on New York City to take immediate action to reform the NYPD's practice of “abusive policing” at Occupy Wall Street protest actions over the course of the last nine months. The basis for the complaint is a new report from the Global Justice Clinic at New York University's School of Law and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at the Fordham University School of Law.

Entitled “Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street,” the 132 page report catalogs hundreds of incidents of alleged excessive use of force and the violation of basic rights and liberties by police officers against protesters, journalists, legal observers and bystanders at Occupy protests over the course of the last nine months.

The report documents the use of “aggressive, unnecessary and excessive” force by police against peaceful individuals, the obstruction of the freedom of the press and independent monitoring by legal observers, pervasive surveillance of peaceful political activity, violent night-time raids on peaceful encampments, the unjustified closure of public spaces, dispersal of peaceful assemblies, arbitrary rule enforcement and baseless arrests, as well as a systematic lack of transparency and lack of accountability among police.

“These practices violate assembly and expression rights and breach the U.S. government's international legal observations to protect those rights,” states the report, which argues that these practices also undermine U.S. efforts to support the freedom of assembly and expression abroad. “The restriction of protest in U.S. cities exposes the double standard inherent in frequent U.S. government critiques of other governments for repressing their people's protest rights.”

The report also states that the police response to Occupy protests also reveals a telling domestic double standard in law enforcement, comparing the mass arrests of peaceful protesters with the lack of accountability for the perpetrators of financial and economic crimes.

“While federal prosecutions of economic crimes, such as mass fraud, are at a 20 year low, in just 10 months, public authorities across the United States have arrested more than 7,000 and physically injured Occupy protesters seeking social and economic reforms.”

The report thus calls for immediate reforms to the policing of protest activities. Among other things, it calls for a number of actions from authorities in New York, including the creation of independent boards to provide official reviews of past police practices in order to promote accountability and bring current policies into accordance with accepted international standards; a full review of the Bloomberg administration's response to the Occupy Wall Street movement; investigation and prosecution of police officers responsible for crimes and infractions; and the creation of new guidelines for the policing of protest actions to ensure that constitutional rights are respected and supported rather than violated.

A part of the Protest and Assembly Rights Project, the report is the first in a series documenting governmental response to the Occupy Wall Street movement in cities and states across the country. The full report can be found here (pdf).