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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Pampered Class of Demonstrators 

Courtesy of our distinguished colleague Avedon Carol: during last year's Republican convention, over 1800 people were arrested on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to resisting arrest to incitement to riot -- "the largest number of arrests in the history of party conventions," according to the Village Voice. The NYT today reports that 1670 of those cases have now concluded, and 91 percent of them "ended with the charges dismissed or with a verdict of not guilty after trial." At least 400 protesters have been exonerated by amateur videotapes proving they committed no crime beyond exercising their First Amendment Rights. Many were not protesting at all:
Dennis Kyne put up such a fight at a political protest last summer, the arresting officer recalled, it took four police officers to haul him down the steps of the New York Public Library and across Fifth Avenue.

"We picked him up and we carried him while he squirmed and screamed," the officer, Matthew Wohl, testified in December. "I had one of his legs because he was kicking and refusing to walk on his own."

Accused of inciting a riot and resisting arrest, Mr. Kyne was the first of the 1,806 people arrested in New York last summer during the Republican National Convention to take his case to a jury. But one day after Officer Wohl testified, and before the defense called a single witness, the prosecutor abruptly dropped all charges.

During a recess, the defense had brought new information to the prosecutor. A videotape shot by a documentary filmmaker showed Mr. Kyne agitated but plainly walking under his own power down the library steps, contradicting the vivid account of Officer Wohl, who was nowhere to be seen in the pictures. Nor was the officer seen taking part in the arrests of four other people at the library against whom he signed complaints.

A sprawling body of visual evidence, made possible by inexpensive, lightweight cameras in the hands of private citizens, volunteer observers and the police themselves, has shifted the debate over precisely what happened on the streets during the week of the convention . . . .

Among them was Alexander Dunlop, who said he was arrested while going to pick up sushi.

Last week, he discovered that there were two versions of the same police tape: the one that was to be used as evidence in his trial had been edited at two spots, removing images that showed Mr. Dunlop behaving peacefully. When a volunteer film archivist found a more complete version of the tape and gave it to Mr. Dunlop's lawyer, prosecutors immediately dropped the charges and said that a technician had cut the material by mistake.
As we said at the time, it was a massive show of intimidation by the NYPD, with no concern for the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of citizens -- "a trial run by the Bush administration to see what they can get away with":
A criminal court judge ordered the release of hundreds of Bush protesters Thursday, ruling that police held them illegally without charges for more than 40 hours. As the protesters began trickling out of jail, they spoke of being held without access to lawyers, initially in a holding cell that had oil and grease spread across the floor . . . .

Throughout this week, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne had insisted that just a few dozen protesters had spent more than six hours behind bars without being charged or released. On Thursday, Browne acknowledged for the first time that large numbers of demonstrators endured long detentions. But he blamed them for overwhelming the police department.

"It's a new entitled, pampered class of demonstrators who want to engage in civil disobedience but don't want to be inconvenienced by arrest processing," Browne said . . . .

Those coming out of the jail in southern Manhattan said that police never advised them of their right to talk to an attorney. And several people, independent of one another, said police told them that if they signed a document admitting guilt and waiving the right to sue for false arrest, they would be released early.

Civil liberties lawyers noted that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) courted the Republican National Convention knowing that massive demonstrations were likely, and that city officials had more than a year to prepare. "It's hard to imagine it's just incompetence, as our city officials do a pretty good job," said Donna Lieberman, chief of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "It seems that we have gotten a kinder, gentler form of preventative detention."

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