Law school clinics criticize NYPD response to Occupy protests
NEW YORK, July 25 (Reuters) – New York police officers have used excessive force, made unjustified arrests and engaged in pervasive surveillance in violation of the rights of Occupy Wall Street protesters, according to a report released by two law school clinics Wednesday.
The report documents 130 separate incidents of alleged abuse by law enforcement authorities and calls for the creation of an independent inspector general to monitor the New York City Police Department.
Some critics of the department’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, have also called for an inspector general. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that such a position is unnecessary.
“Many of the reported allegations individually indicate clear violations of the government’s obligation to uphold assembly and expression rights,” says the 132-page report, which was produced after eight months of research.
The report, “Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street,” was authored by members of the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at Fordham Law School. It was delivered Wednesday to the NYPD, the Department of Justice and the United Nations.
Police officials and Bloomberg have defended the city’s response to Occupy protests that resulted in thousands of arrests, most for minor offenses.
“The NYPD accommodated lawful protests and made arrests when laws were broken, and showed restraint in doing so,” said Paul Browne, the NYPD’s chief spokesman, in a statement Wednesday.
According to Wednesday’s report, police surveillance of Occupy events in some cases appears to violate legal restrictions on police monitoring of protests, the report says. The restrictions are known as the “Handschu Guidelines,” after the landmark federal Manhattan case Handschu v. Special Services.
Under the guidelines, police may conduct surveillance of political protests only in limited circumstances, such as when there is a reasonable suspicion that unlawful activity has or will occur, according to the report.
The report cites numerous incidents in which police officers allegedly employed excessive force without provocation. It also claims that accredited journalists were barred from covering various events, including the overnight raid that cleared the main Occupy encampment at Zuccotti Park in November.
The intimidation and use of force served to escalate tensions while having a chilling effect on the right to free speech and assembly, the authors conclude.
The report calls for an inspector general to monitor the NYPD, as well as an investigation into the police response to Occupy Wall Street and disciplinary measures for officers found to have violated the law.
Sarah Knuckey, a NYU law professor and one of the principal authors of the report, said she hoped the Department of Justice would consider investigating the NYPD’s conduct if the city refuses to do so.
The NYPD’s conduct during Occupy protests already has led to several lawsuits. In April, four members of the city council filed a federal lawsuit accusing the police of violating protesters’ free speech and assembly rights and committing false arrest and malicious prosecution.
Wednesday’s report relies on a wide range of sources, including interviews with protesters, lawyers and journalists, as well as photographs, video, media reports, court documents and direct observation.
Requests for interviews with police and city officials were either declined or received no response, the report says.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax)