NYPD ‘consistently violated basic rights’ during Occupy protests – study


Report by NYU and Fordham law schools found ‘shocking level of impunity’ and department that acted beyond its powers

Occupy protesters, Brooklyn bridge
The report accused the NYPD of deploying unnecessary force and routinely obstructing press freedoms.  Photograph: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters
The Guardian
July 25, 2012
The first systematic look at the New York police department’s response to Occupy Wall Street protests paints a damning picture of an out-of-control and aggressive organization that routinely acted beyond its powers.
In a report that followed an eight-month study (pdf), researchers at the law schools of NYU and Fordham accuse theNYPD of deploying unnecessarily aggressive force, routinely obstructing press freedoms and making arbitrary and baseless arrests.
The study, published on Tuesday, found evidence that police made violent late-night raids on peaceful encampments, obstructed independent legal monitors and was opaque about its policies.
The NYPD report is the first of a series to look at how police authorities in five US cities, including Oakland and Boston, have treated the Occupy movement since it began in September 2011. The research concludes that there now is a systematic effort by authorities to suppress protests, even when these are lawful and pose no threat to the public.
Sarah Knuckey, a professor of law at NYU, said: “All the case studies we collected show the police are violating basic rights consistently, and the level of impunity is shocking”.
To be launched over the coming months, the reports are being done under the Protest and Assembly Rights Project, a national consortium of law school clinics addressing America’s response to Occupy Wall Street.
The NYPD appears to be the worst offender, in large part because it has made little attempt – unlike Oakland, for example – to reassess its practices or open itself up to dialogue or review. The NYPD practices documented in the report include: 
• Aggressive, unnecessary and excessive police force against peaceful protesters, bystanders, legal observers, and journalists. This included the use of batons, pepper spray, metal barricades, scooters, and horses. 
• Obstruction of press freedoms and independent legal monitoring, including arrests of at least 10 journalists, and multiple cases of preventing journalists from reporting on protests or barring and evicting them from specific sites. 
• Pervasive surveillance of peaceful political activity. 
• Violent late-night raids on peaceful encampments. 
• Unjustified closure of public spaces, dispersal of peaceful assemblies, and trapping of protesters. 
• Arbitrary and selective rule enforcement and baseless arrests. 
• Failures to ensure transparency about government policies. 
• Failures to ensure accountability for those allegedly responsible for abuses.

The report argues that the lack of transparency and accountability is especially troubling because the public does not know whether police actions are guided by specific written policies, or whether they are random or ad hoc. 
The NYPD turned down multiple requests to meet the researchers, who say they were keen include the police’s point of view in the report. The other four police departments examined for the project all sent representatives to meet researchers. The NYPD did not provide a comment to the Guardian by the time of publication of this article.
In New York, researchers had to obtain documents by filing freedom of information requests with the NYPD, and Knuckey said some requests have still not been answered. The researchers also requested meetings with the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the department of parks and recreation, the public advocate, and the district attorney’s office, none of whom responded. 
Researchers reviewed hours of video footage, documents and press reports, as well as conducting interviews with protestors and witnesses. “Many interviewees cried while speaking about their interaction with the police – they still carried a sense of trauma,” Knuckey said,. 

As a legal observer during the Occupy protests, Knuckey recalled being subjected to verbal abuse, arrested and witnessed fellow police officers covering for errant colleagues. “The message all of this sends out, especially to younger officers in the force, is one of impunity,” she said. 
The report lists a total of 130 incidents of excessive or unwarranted force, which, it says, require investigation by authorities. To date, only one NYPD officer – deputy inspector Anthony Bologna, who pepper-sprayed several female protesters on 24 September 2011 – has faced disciplinary proceedings for using excessive force during the Occupy protests. 
The report makes a host of recommendations around investigation of abuses, transparency, policy review and reformulation, and setting up external oversight. NYU and Fordham are also making the report the basis of written complaints made today to Bloomberg and the NYPD, the state department of justice as well as the United Nations. 
Raising the matter with the the international body is especially important, Knuckey said, because there have been instances of authorities in Egypt, Syria and Indonesia pointing to NYPD actions to justify their own and far more severe crackdowns on non-violent protests. 
“The point needs to be made that the NYPD does not exemplify international human rights law, it violates it,” she said.

Legal Experts File Complaints about Widespread Rights Violations in Policing of ‘Occupy’ Movement

July 25, 2012
Contact: Professor Sarah Knuckey (NYU)             +1.212.992.8873      ; Emi MacLean, Human Rights Lawyer,             +1.212.998.6714      
Legal Experts File Complaints about Widespread Rights Violations in Policing of ‘Occupy’ Movement 
Call on NYC, U.S. Justice Department, UN to Protect Protesters’ Rights 
(New York, NY, July 25, 2012) – The City of New York must take immediate action to correct the clear pattern of abusive policing of Occupy Wall Street protests, said legal experts in a complaint filed today with New York City authorities, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the United Nations. The complaint is based on a report providing in-depth documentation and legal analysis of widespread human rights violations in New York City’s treatment of Occupy protests over the past ten months.
“Recently, officers repeatedly yanked the broken collarbone of a protester as he begged them to stop hurting him. And just two weeks ago, a phalanx of officers removed a grandmother from a park for the ‘crime’ of knitting in a folding chair, arrested a man trying to help her leave, and then arrested another man filming the incident,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, one of the report’s principal authors, who also witnessed these incidents. “These are just two of hundreds of examples we document in our report, demonstrating a pattern of abusive and unaccountable protest policing by the NYPD.”
This report is the first in a series by the Protest and Assembly Rights Project, a national consortium of law school clinics addressing the United States response to Occupy Wall Street.
In their 132-page report­Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street­the experts catalog 130 specific alleged incidents of excessive police force, and hundreds of additional violations, including unjustified arrests, abuse of journalists, unlawful closure of sidewalks and parks to protesters, and pervasive surveillance of peaceful activists. Yet, to date, only one police officer is known to have been disciplined for misconduct in the context of Occupy Wall Street policing.
“The excessive and unpredictable policing of Occupy Wall Street is one more example of the dire need for widespread reform of NYPD practices. These violations are occurring against a backdrop of police infiltration of activist groups, massive stop-and-frisk activity in communities of color, and the surveillance of Muslims,” said Emi MacLean, a human rights lawyer and primary author of the report. “This report is a call to action.”
The report calls for urgent state action, including:
• The creation of an independent Inspector General for the NYPD;
• A full and impartial review of the city’s response to OWS;
• Investigations and prosecutions of responsible officers; and
• The creation of new NYPD protest policing guidelines to protect against rights violations.
If New York authorities fail to respond, the report calls for federal intervention.
“The U.S. response to the Occupy movement – which itself emerged as part of a wave of global social justice
protests­-is being closely watched by other governments,” said Professor Katherine Glenn, one of the
report’s principal authors. “In the face of this international attention, this report shows that New York
City’s response actually violates international law and, as such, sets a bad example to the rest of the world.
The city now has an opportunity to set this right through reforms that reflect just and accountable policing
This report is the first in a series by the Protest and Assembly Rights Project. This report focuses on New York City, and was authored by the Global Justice Clinic (NYU School of Law) and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic (Fordham Law School). Subsequent reports will address the responses in Boston, Charlotte, Oakland, and San Francisco. Participating law clinics are at NYU, Fordham, Harvard,  Stanford, Rutgers-Newark, Charlotte, and Loyola-New Orleans.