In February 12, 2004, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a multi-plaintiff federal lawsuit on behalf of protesters who were illegally arrested during an anti-war rally April 7, 2003, in New York. The suit charges that the New York Police Department unlawfully arrested the peaceful protesters and detained them for excessively long periods of time at 1 Police Plaza. Over 70 protesters were illegally arrested outside the offices of an affiliate of the Carlyle Group, a defense-related investment firm with financial ties to the Bush and bin Laden families. Fifty-two of the arrestees have joined this lawsuit.
February 12, 2004 -- “The Carlyle arrests are part of a pattern of NYPD harassment in which lawful demonstrators are arrested and jailed with the short-term goal of clearing them off the streets and the long-term goal of deterring them and other New Yorkers from participating in future demonstrations,” says the Center’s Nancy Chang. CCR hopes this lawsuit will help to break this pattern of intimidation as activists prepare to protest the Republican National Convention.
Along with the illegal arrests, excessively prolonged detention, and denial of access to their lawyers, some of the protesters were questioned using the controversial “Demonstration Debriefing Form,” which includes questions about political affiliations and prior attendance at demonstrations. The form was first used on scores of activists arrested following the mass protest last February 15 against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The NYPD claim to have withdrawn it after criticism from civil rights groups.
Sarah Kunstler was held for 12 hours and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct. “It was frightening to learn how easy it is to be arrested without warning and hauled away for peacefully exercising your free speech rights,” she says. “I hadn’t realized how regressive New York City policing had become.” The charges against all the plaintiffs were dismissed. Aside from unspecified monetary compensation, lawyers want a declaration from the court that the NYPD’s actions on April 7 were retaliatory and unconstitutional.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.