Protesters from Occupy Wall Street and attorneys from civil and human rights groups filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for information on the policies the New York Police Department (NYPD) is using and has used to control and handle Occupy demonstrations since the movement grew in Zuccotti Park last September.
The submitted request cites “reports of mass arrests, unjustified or unlawful arrests, “kettling,” restriction of the ability of individuals to peacefully assemble, aggressive or excessive police force, police misconduct, and police surveillance in relation to OWS protests. Journalists, legal observers, and elected representatives have also reportedly been subject to police force, arrest, deprivation of liberty, and criminal prosecutions.” And, makes it clear that those requesting the information want any information on local, state and federal law enforcement and private partner planning” and any information on “OWS protests,” such as protests, marches and assemblies that may have occurred in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens and also any demonstrations affiliated with Occupy the Bronx, Occupy the Hood, Occupy Sunset Park and Ocupemos Queens.
It seeks information on how police are directed to handle “large public events” and engage in crowd, disorder or riot control; how police are directed to carry out “mass or large-scale detentions and/or arrests”; how police are supposed to use “kettling” or “the use of personnel, netting, fencing or other materials to contain and direct” protests; how police are to use vehicles, scooters or horses; how and when they are supposed to use “flexicuffs”; how police are to use force and when they are supposed to enforce “disorderly conduct” or prohibitions on protests or gatherings in the New York Penal Code.
Furthermore, the request demands information on the use of “stop and frisk tactics” at protests and the practice of designating sidewalk space as “frozen” or inaccessible for public use (which was done in front of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s mansion).
A press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) notes the “city has five days” under New York law to respond to the request.
The release quotes an Occupy Wall Street protester:
“I am part of Occupy Wall Street because I believe we need major policy reforms to address inequality and the corporate takeover of democracy. But I often feel that my very right to peacefully protest is at stake,” said Aaron Bornstein, an OWS supporter. “Protesters have been arrested simply for standing on the sidewalk and beaten for sitting in a park. The police seem above the law.”
Occupy Wall Street has shown great perseverance in the face of a police department that has repeatedly shut down public spaces and cracked down on people, who remain nearby because they assert they have the right to assemble and engage in freedom of speech. From Zuccotti Park to Union Square to the public sidewalk space on Wall Street, there does not seem to be any place the city will let the protesters go to simply exercise their rights peacefully. Whether that has to do with the ties between Bloomberg’s army, the NYPD, and Wall Street corporations or firms, this effort at transparency hopefully will give the public the truth about any corruption that has made it near impossible for any residents to protest in and around Wall Street.
People have also witnessed operations where the NYPD obstructs freedom of the press and goes after people who want to cover news stories and film the police. Journalists have either been arrested or else been subjected to childish behavior (e.g. shining lights into cameras to block shots).
What the NYPD has been doing to Occupy Wall Street clearly violates civil liberties. Now, the public may get to see why this conduct by police is acceptable, lawful, permissible, justified, or warranted.
*Below is a recent example of NYPD violating the First Amendment rights of Occupy Wall Street protesters: