On November 22, 2004, a group of protesters and bystanders wrongfully arrested during the Republican National Convention last August filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the almost 2,000 who were wrongfully arrested and detained under filthy and toxic conditions for unreasonably prolonged periods of time. They contend that the City and the NYPD took these actions to punish them for engaging in political expression and protest. The Center for Constitutional Rights is a signatory of this lawsuit filed by the National Lawyer’s Guild.
“During the Republican Convention, the Mayor and the Police Department suspended the Bill of Rights for those who chose to protest the foreign, military and domestic policies of the United States government. The rights to free expression, to be free from arrest lacking probable cause, to a prompt arraignment and release and to be free from conditions of confinement that were inhumane were arrogantly trod upon by Bloomberg and Kelly, and others,” said Jonathan Moore one of the lead lawyers representing the group of protesters. “These actions by the NYPD speak to an overall policy, put in place by the top leadership of the Department, to chill and punish political protest. It is an outrage,” said Martin Stolar, President of the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and one of the lawyers on the case.
“The real tragedy is that young people, immigrants and women were particularly hurt by these policies. These are groups that have been traditionally marginalized by the most powerful forces, so it is no surprise that Bloomberg, Kelly and the Republicans targeted these groups,” said Elizabeth Fink a well known civil rights lawyer who is also a part of the legal team.
As a few examples of the kind of mistreatment that were so widespread are the following:
Shahrzad Gheremani - a diabetic, a 15 year old high school student, Shahrzad was attempting to go a movie on 34th Street when she was corralled by the police into a group of RNC protesters and arrested. She was held for several hours on Pier 57 under filthy and dangerous conditions where she was not allowed to get her insulin. Finally she was released to her father’s custody, without ever being charged. Her father, Ali Gheremani supports her participation in this class action lawsuit. “Too many in my homeland, Iran, allowed freedom to slip away after the Revolution by not speaking up. Even though my daughter only intended to go to a movie, we will not allow this threat to democracy to go unanswered,” he said.
Elizabeth Fleischman - arrested merely because she was perceived to be a protester on August 27. At the time of her arrest, while riding her bicycle, she was following police directions. A former vice-president of Morgan Stanley and a 56th floor survivor of the 9/11 assault on the World Trade Center, she never filed a claim against the City at that time. However, because she is so outraged by this assault by the City of New York on the Constitution, she enthusiastically joined in this lawsuit.
Chris Kornicke - on August 31st, Chris attempted to walk to the “protest zone” at Madison Square Garden. He and others were directed onto 17th Street where they were blocked off and not allowed to leave until he was arrested. Chris was anxious to avoid engaging in any unlawful actions because he is an epileptic and to go without his medications can be life threatening. Nonetheless he was held for many hours and denied his medications. This denial made his detention incredibly stressful and dangerous.